• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Iranian Kurd refugees leave for Sweden; hundreds remain in no man's land

News Stories, 10 December 2004

© UNHCR/A.Van Genderen Stort
Dressed for the Scandinavian winter, this Iranian Kurd family was part of the last group of 185 refugees to leave Jordan for Sweden.

AMMAN, Jordan, Dec 10 (UNHCR) For more than a year and a half, they had lived under tents in the inhospitable desert of the no man's land between Jordan and Iraq. In the early hours of Thursday, waiting for the plane that was to take them to their new life in Sweden, the group of 185 Iranian Kurd refugees at Amman airport could hardly believe their luck.

"I am finally going to live as a human being again," said Salim Kare, a father of five who had fled Iran during the start of the Khomeiny era. "We were taught about the life, the schools, the laws in Sweden. When I arrive in Sweden, in Advalla, the place chosen for me, I will live like a Swede."

The 185 were part of a group of 387 Iranian Kurds who were accepted for permanent resettlement in Sweden. The first 202 travelled to Stockholm late last month. Until only a few weeks ago, they had all been living under tents in the no man's land where they had become stuck when they tried to flee Iraq and leave refugee life behind in the spring of 2003. Most had spent almost a quarter of a century in Al Tash refugee camp, near Ramadi in Iraq, after fleeing Iran in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution there.

Salim has spent more than half of his life as a refugee. Surrounded by heaps of luggage, he did nothing but smile in anticipation of his new life.

"We are happy to go, to start a new life, to learn mechanics and art," said brothers Payman Saiful, 22, and Zaman, 27. "But we are sad about the ones we are leaving behind in that horrible place, no man's land. It is not fair, they should get a chance too. UNHCR should do their best."

There are still 741 refugees, 664 of whom are Iranian Kurds, stuck in the no man's land, while 137 Palestinians are still at the Ruweished camp, some 60 km inside Jordan. In both locations, refugees have been living under very harsh conditions since the spring of 2003, staying under tents in a desert area subject to extreme climatic variations. They now face a second winter of freezing temperatures with no immediate solution in sight to help them.

For the past one-and-a-half years, UNHCR has been calling on the generosity of countries around the world to help those stranded refugees. The agency has submitted 880 cases for resettlement to such countries as the United States, Australia, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries. To date, despite the generosity of Sweden and other countries, hundreds of these requests remain pending.

UNHCR also wrote to many Arab countries requesting them to grant shelter, even on a temporary basis, to Palestinian refugees stranded at the Jordanian border. Last year, Jordan itself agreed to give temporary asylum to 386 Palestinians with Jordanian spouses; while 250 Palestinians chose to leave Ruweished to go back to Iraq. The refugee agency has undertaken to assist countries with the financial cost of hosting Palestinian refugees and hopes for a positive reaction from Arab states.

"We can only do our best and we have been doing it for a long time," said Jacqueline Parlevliet, UNHCR Jordan's senior protection officer. "We have submitted cases to many countries in and outside the region. We can do little more than draw attention to the desperate needs of these refugees, highlight their suffering and call for help in finding a solution for them. Unfortunately we do not have the power to resettle them elsewhere, only nation states can take that decision."

A decision can make the difference between a life full of opportunities and a hopeless future. In Amman Airport on Wednesday night, it was the children who were the most excited to leave.

"When we arrive in Sweden, I will send my daughter back to school," said Karim Kosadi, surrounded by his five children. His daughter is so happy, she cannot wait to leave. "I want to learn English and Swedish, and everything," she interrupted. "In the camp I did not have the chance to learn anymore, and I have felt frustrated ever since."

Next to her, a little baby girl gazed around the messy departure hall with a serious look on her face.

"Sonia was born in the no man's land, one year and four months ago, she was the first baby born there," her mother said. "Nowadays all she says is Lolo, the town we are heading for in Sweden."

Sonia is young enough that she will not even remember her life as a refugee; she will only be reminded by her parents of the years they spent in the camps. She has the chance of a normal life in a country she can call home. Dozens of children still in the no man's land are waiting for a similar chance.

By Astrid van Genderen Stort in Jordan

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Resettlement

An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

UNHCR Resettlement Handbook and Country Chapters

July 2011 edition of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Afghan Refugees in Iran

At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

It will benefit refugee returnees to Afghanistan as well as 3 million Afghan refugees, including 1 million in Iran and 1.7 million in Pakistan.

Many of the refugees in Iran have been living there for more than three decades. This photo set captures the lives of some of these exiles, who wait in hope of a lasting solution to their situation.

Afghan Refugees in Iran

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.
Sweden: Mahmoud's EscapePlay video

Sweden: Mahmoud's Escape

Mahmoud was one of more than 300,000 Syrian refugees who have sought safety in Egypt since the conflict in his homeland began three years ago. The nine-year-old was so desperate to attend school that he risked his life to get to Europe. He was stopped and sent back to Egypt but is now making a fresh start in Sweden.
Iran: A New LifePlay video

Iran: A New Life

Afghan refugees adjust to a new life in western Iran after being moved from their former homes in an area declared off limits.