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Palestinian refugees arrive at Romania centre en route to resettlement

News Stories, 17 April 2009

© UNHCR/F.Chiu
A Normal Playground: Some of the Palestinians enjoy a game of football at the centre.

TIMISOARA, Romania, April 17 (UNHCR) A group of 59 Palestinian refugees have arrived at a special transit centre in Romania en route to a new life overseas after being evacuated from a desert camp in Iraq.

The refugees arrived at Timisoara International Airport early Thursday morning and were then transferred to the pioneering Evacuation Transit Centre. The Romanian government, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) created the facility to provide a temporary haven for refugees facing acute danger and in need of immediate evacuation.

The group, comprising mainly women and children, will remain in the centre until their applications for resettlement in a third country have been processed. This will take no more than a few months.

They had all been living under extremely tough conditions in Al Waleed camp, located close to Iraq's border with Syria, after fleeing from persecution and human rights abuses in Baghdad in recent years.

The tented settlement is home to some 1,500 refugees who live with the danger of snakes, rats, scorpions, sandstorms, flooding, fires and extremes of heat and cold. Seventeen people have died in Al Waleed from various ailments since 2007.

UNHCR spoke to refugees who were happy to be somewhere where they had far more freedom of movement than at Al Waleed and where they could easily receive medical care. "We are so happy that for the first time in three years our children can play on a normal playground," said one of the Palestinians.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller attended the formal opening of the centre last month, but it has been accepting refugees since last November, when a group of Eritreans arrived. Feller said the centre was becoming a key protection tool for UNHCR and it set a great example to other countries.

The Evacuation Transit Centre can accommodate up to 200 refugees. The Palestinians will be joining several dozen Sudanese from the troubled Darfur region. They arrived from Iraq, where they had been living in another desert camp after fleeing abuse, blackmail, eviction and assault by militias following the 2003 downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

"Again, the Centre has proved its value," said Machiel Salomons, UNHCR's representative in Romania, who was in Timisoara. "For the fourth time, refugees in desperate situations have been evacuated to the centre, awaiting a new life in a resettlement country."

Salomons said donors were showing a lot of interest and he added that high-level delegations from several countries were scheduled to visit the centre in the coming weeks.

By Florentina Chiu in Timisoara and Claudia Liute in Bucharest, Romania

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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.

Palestinians Refugees in Iraq

Since the overthrow in 2003 of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, Palestinian refugees in Baghdad have increasingly become the targets of arrest, kidnapping, threats and murder, prompting thousands to flee the capital.

There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq – compared to more than double that number in 2003. They live in constant fear, many without proper documentation. For those who try to leave, the trip to Iraq's border with Syria and Jordan is increasingly dangerous. Hundreds are stuck at the Iraq-Syrian border, too scared to go back and unable to cross the frontier. Those who do manage to leave Iraq, often do so illegally.

International support is urgently needed to find a temporary humanitarian solution for the Palestinians. UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the international community and countries in the region to offer refuge to the Palestinians. The refugee agency has also approached resettlement countries, but only Canada and Syria have responded positively. Syria has since closed its borders to other desperate Palestinians.

UNHCR also advocates for better protection of the Palestinian community inside Iraq.

Palestinians Refugees in Iraq

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

Al Tanf: Leaving No Man's Land

In February 2010, the last 60 Palestinian inhabitants of the squalid camp of Al Tanf on the Syria-Iraq border were ushered onto buses and taken to another camp in Syria.

Al Tanf camp was established in May 2006, when hundreds of Palestinians fleeing persecution in Iraq tried in vain to cross into Syria. With no country willing to accept them, they remained on a strip of desert sandwiched between a busy highway and a wall in the no-man's-land between Iraq and Syria.

Along with daily worries about their security, the residents of Al Tanf suffered from heat, dust, sandstorms, fire, flooding and even snow. The passing vehicles posed another danger. At its peak, Al Tanf hosted some 1,300 people.

UNHCR encouraged resettlement countries to open their doors to the Palestinians. Since 2008, more than 900 of them have been accepted by countries such as Belgium, Chile, Finland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The last group of Palestinians were transferred to Al Hol camp in Syria, where they face continuing restrictions and uncertainty.

Al Tanf: Leaving No Man's Land

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