Iraqi refugees leave Jordan, Syria in first resettlement to Germany

Briefing Notes, 20 March 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 March 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The first group of Iraqi refugees destined for Germany from Syria and Jordan left yesterday on a specially chartered plane from Damascus. The 122 people were selected following a swift decision made by the German Interior Minister's conference in December 2008. Priority was given to refugees from persecuted minorities, vulnerable cases with specific medical needs, traumatized victims of persecution as well as female-headed households who have family in Germany.

Every family that was resettled yesterday had faced persecution in Iraq in the past three years. Among those who left were a man who survived a kidnapping, a family targeted for their moderate religious views and a young mother who has been living alone in Syria for the past year after her husband was abducted and never heard of again. She will be reunited with her parents who are now living in Germany; they will help to take care of her young children.

Germany was responding to a decision by the Council of the European Union on 27 November 2008 that encouraged the resettlement of up to 10,000 Iraqi refugees in 2009. The government is offering 2,500 places for Iraqi refugees 2,000 from Syria and 500 from Jordan. UNHCR very much appreciates the speed of the response by the German government; with this planeload of refugees departing only three months after the decision was made by the German Interior Ministers Conference on 5 December. Some countries can take years to resettle refugees.

This is the first time Germany has initiated such a programme since the early 1980s, when Vietnamese boat people were resettled. They are joining 15 other countries that have offered resettlement to Iraqi refugees since 2003. UNHCR supports a humanitarian resettlement programme which responds to the needs of the most vulnerable individuals.

Germany is providing a very positive example, which we hope will inspire other European countries to consider resettling Iraqi refugees during 2009. We estimate over 60,000 Iraqi refugees need resettlement from Iraq's neighbouring countries, the majority in Syria and Jordan. Last year 17,770 Iraqi refugees were resettled to third countries, mostly in the west. It is hoped a much larger number will be accepted and resettled this year.

There is huge pressure from the Iraqi refugee community for resettlement, as is seen every Tuesday morning when the UNHCR Damascus office conducts resettlement counselling sessions. For the past year, there have never been less than 2,000 refugees at these counselling days.

UNHCR hands over camp for internally displaced Iraqis: UNHCR has completed and handed over to Iraqi authorities a camp for internally displaced people at Bastasen, in Zharawa Sub-District, in the Kurdistan region. Establishment of the camp began in December. It was built to accommodate 45 displaced Iraqi families about 270 people who fled their homes in the insecure Iraq-Iran border region early last year. Two tents and a separate bathroom are allocated to each family in the camp, which covers an area of 8,280 square metres. A water system has also been installed.

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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

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

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