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UNHCR protection chief meets resettled refugees in Canada

News Stories, 15 November 2007

© UNHCR/G.Nyembwe
Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller (right) meets Shah Amad and his family.

OTTAWA, Canada, November 15 (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller learned about the challenges of integration in Canada during a meeting in an Ottawa reception centre with resettled refugees from Asia and Africa.

The senior UNHCR official met families originating from countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Somalia at a special reception centre on Wednesday hours after starting her first official visit to Canada.

"It is gratifying to see first hand newly arrived refugees about to embark in rebuilding a new and hopeful future in Ottawa," said Feller.

Feller, who also met Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley and attended a conference at the University of Ottawa on the first day of her four-day visit, was particularly interested in hearing about the integration challenges in Canada.

Afghan refugee Shah Amad had arrived in Ottawa from New Delhi just six days earlier with his wife Roqia and five-month-old baby girl. He told the Assistant High Commissioner that he was excited about starting a new life in Canada, but also slightly apprehensive.

"I can't wait to be independent but I am a bit nervous too," said Amad, who met Feller when she visited the Reception House in Ottawa. "Canada is another world and my wife and I will have a lot to learn," added 25-year-old Amad, who left Afghanistan when he was two years old. Roqia and her family fled during the civil war of the mid-1990s.

"Their story is probably not unique," said Chamroeun Lay, manager of the Reception House. "Integration can be a stressful experience and depends on many factors, including language, communications skills, health, different levels of education and how long refugees resided in a refugee camp. Hundreds of refugees have walked through our doors and come back years later to tell us about their success stories," added the former refugee from Cambodia.

The Reception House, which opened its doors 20 years ago, is the first residence in Ottawa for most resettled refugees and can house up to 96 people. The centre also provides newcomers with skills that will help them cope in Canada.

Feller also met representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGO) on Wednesday and gave the keynote address at a conference on "Protracted Refugee Situations, Rule of Law and Peacebuilding" at the University of Ottawa.

She will travel today to Vancouver, where she will head straight to the US-Canada port of entry to meet border officials who handle asylum seekers. She will also visit the airport detention facilities and border points of entry.

Feller returns to Geneva on Saturday. She arrived in Canada from the United States, where she called on countries to increase their support for UNHCR's efforts to protect nearly 33 million refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and asylum seekers worldwide.

The Assistant High Commissioner, speaking to journalists in New York, highlighted the needs of the more than 4.4 million Iraqis who have left their homes, which she described as "probably the biggest refugee problem we have at the current time."

Canada has a long commitment to refugee protection and is an important partner of UNHCR. In 2006, Canada resettled more than 10,000 refugees and contributed US$27.3 million to the UN refugee agency's work.

By Gisèle Nyembwe and Nanda Na Champassak in Ottawa, Canada




UNHCR country pages


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

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.

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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

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

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Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlement

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