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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.

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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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Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

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On Wednesday, Germany launched a humanitarian programme to provide temporary shelter and safety to up to 5,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. A first group of 107 flew to Hanover in the northern city of Hanover. They will attend cultural orientation courses to prepare them for life over the next two years in Germany, where they will be able to work, study and access basic services. Among the group are Ahmad and his family, including a son who is deaf and needs constant care that was not available in Lebanon. The family fled from Syria in late 2012 after life became too dangerous and too costly in the city of Aleppo, where Ahmad sold car spare parts. Photographer Elena Dorfman followed the family in Beirut as they prepared to depart for the airport and their journey to Germany.

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