Journey to freedom for US-bound Manus refugees hits transfer blunder

The refugees from Manus Island en route to the United States hit a road-bump in Manila. Source: Supplied

A transfer of about 40 refugees from Manus Island to the United States hit a road-bump in Manila on Tuesday afternoon when a number of men were unable to transfer to their flight to New York, SBS News has learned.

Organisers of the refugee transfer had given men tickets for a flight through Vancouver, but SBS News understands they were denied boarding because they did not have the required travel documents to transfer through Canada. Several of the men are stateless. 

The men, who had been due to separate from the other refugees in Manila boarded the same flight to Los Angeles five hours later. The flight landed in LA at roughly 12:40pm Australian time.

The men, who have spent upwards of four years stranded in Papua New Guinea, will be settled in locations including Knoxville in Tennessee, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Elizabeth in New Jersey, Atlanta in Georgia and in North Carolina. Those transferring through New York will now arrive a day late.

“Their lives are full of screw-ups by authorities who are supposed to be looking out for them,” said Janet Wilson, an Australian friend and supporter of several of the men. “They are used to it.”

The agency responsible for the transfers, the International Organisation for Migration, was unavailable for comment prior to publication. 

Mushtaq Hussain, whose 22-year-old brother is part of the latest transfer, told SBS News his brother Sajid was ready to start a new life in Tennessee.

“He wants to study and work also, and he wants to see out parents because he was very young when he was locked in Manus Island,” the 29-year-old older brother said. “He like human rights and maybe he will study about human rights.”

Mushtaq is now living in Indonesia and hoping to receive asylum in New Zealand. 

“He was sad for me because he said ‘I'm gone and you are alone in Indonesia’,” Mushtaq told SBS News. “But I say to him, I’m very happy for you to get freedom from Manus, and I said it's OK, one day we will meet again.”

The US government usually requires refugees to repay the cost of their transfer once they are established in the United States, a request to confirm that this would also be the case for refugees under the Australian deal was not met with a response before publication.


After five years in the United States, refugees are eligible to apply for US citizenship.

The latest transfer brings the total number of refugees brought to the United States from Manus Island and Nauru to roughly 100. The deal, announced in November 2016, was brokered with the Obama administration but has been derided as “dumb” by US President Donald Trump. 

90 days of support

Upon landing at their final destinations, the men will be met by various American resettlement agencies, such as the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the International Rescue Committee and the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

The settlement agencies are contracted to provide 90 days of support for new arrivals, including registering for identification and employment services and assisting with access to healthcare and education. 

The agencies also assist with social integration and building community support networks. “We are used to difficult cases,” one support agency told SBS News.

Twenty-six-year-old Shafiq Turi, also on the current flights, told SBS News he was worried about his friends who he was leaving behind.

Some of the Manus refugees en route to the US.
Some of the Manus refugees en route to the US.

“The situation is very bad in Manus,” he said.

But still, he said there was hope. “People are very excited to get freedom,” he told SBS on the way to the airport. Mr Turi expects to be resettled this week in Elizabeth, New Jersey  

Prior to boarding, a Pakistani refugee told SBS News that after more than four years on Manus, he was “so happy” to be finally going to America. 

“I hope I can study, and work a job to support myself” said the man who declined to be named until he was safely in the United States. 

“I’m so happy for those people coming here,” said Reza Mohammad Nezhadtazkam, a 43-year-old Iranian man from Manus Island who was resettled in Arizona last year.  

“I’m not entirely comfortable here yet, but I’m happy just because I’m free,” he told SBS News in an interview yesterday. “I don’t know how long it will take, but I hope to make a future here.” 

The Guardian reports that roughly 130 people from Nauru will also be transferred in the upcoming cohort, with advocates expecting that a flight from Nauru will depart later this week.

The transfers have been challenging for journalists to cover, with American, Australian and United Nations' authorities refusing to confirm of deny the flights

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