A second group of refugees accepted for resettlement in the United States has departed Australia’s offshore detention centres.
Fifty eight refugees will fly from Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea to New York on Tuesday, joining 54 who have already arrived in the US from Manus Island and Nauru.
“I am very happy to be free of the hell that the Australian government made for us on Manus. But we are sad for those who are still waiting so long,” one refugee said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
“We can’t stop thinking of everyone who are still on Manus. We all need freedom.”
The group will fly to Manila before splitting into two groups, with one transiting through Los Angeles before rejoining the others in New York.
Photos circulated by the Refugee Action Coalition show refugees leaving a Port Moresby hotel, with others waiting in the airport’s departure lounge.
Their departure comes a day after hundreds of detainees on Nauru signed a petition addressed to Australian Border Force, demanding more information and a timetable on the US deal.
The signatories also demanded that separated families be reunited and that they be flown to Australia and New Zealand while their US applications are progressed.
The US resettlement deal is expected to offer up to 1250 places, however, Natasha Blucher from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says 2000 people, including 150 children, remain in offshore detention with no prospect of freedom.
“The US deal cannot be the only solution here. It is moving too slowly and people’s lives are being destroyed for every moment they are stuck in this crushing system,” Ms Blucher said.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s renewed offer to take in 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention network is said to have increased people-smuggling attempts.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said a number of people-smuggling boats had recently been intercepted by Australian authorities, with their crews suggesting they were planning to go to New Zealand.
“The people smugglers are absolutely ruthless,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Brisbane.
“They use all of the social media we use and they use it very skilfully and market any scrap of information that they can and so they were very busy marketing and promoting New Zealand as a destination recently.”
The offer was originally raised by New Zealand prime minister John Key in 2013 and rejected by Australia’s then Labor government, but pressed again multiple times last year by his successor Jacinda Ardern.
Labor leader Bill Shorten queried whether there was any difference between the lure of New Zealand versus the US.
“If the argument is that people may want to go to New Zealand, I’m sure that people might want to go to America,” he told reporters in Cairns.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says the opposition leader is overlooking the fact that New Zealand is the only country whose citizens can fly to Australia and get a visa on arrival.
“That’s the big difference,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio.