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

Palestinian families coping well with resettlement in Iceland

Telling the Human Story, 29 June 2009

© UNHCR/H.Mathisen
Sawsan in her new home in Iceland. The Akranes community has rallied around the newcomers.

AKRANES, Iceland, June 29 (UNHCR) Last September, UNHCR reported about the resettlement to Iceland of a group of vulnerable Palestinian women and their children from a harsh desert camp near Iraq's border with Syria.

The fortunes of Iceland have nosedived since the arrival of the group of 29, with its economy battered by the global financial crisis. But the Palestinian women are still happy to be in the rugged little island nation in the North Atlantic, as UNHCR Senior External Relations Officer Hanne Mathisen found out during a recent visit to the small fishing port of Akranes.

They were attending language classes four days a week and were able to converse with their new friends in one of only about 20 countries to accept refugees for resettlement. The Palestinians hope the economic crisis will not keep them out of work for too long. But they are thankful to be safe and that their children have access to a decent education and a brighter future.

One of the women that Hanne met in Akranes was 42-year-old Sawsan, who spent "a year of desperation" in the Al Waleed camp after fleeing Baghdad in 2007 with her son Yehya, who is now aged five years.


This is her tale: "I woke up one morning and my husband was gone. We looked for him everywhere, for seven months, fearing he was dead or had been kidnapped. It turns out he had abandoned us and fled to safety in a neighbouring country.

"The militia started to pay me unfriendly visits, threatening me to leave our house and saying that if I didn't they would kidnap my son. They stole all our furniture. I went to the police for help, but when they came to see me at the house, they beat me. What had I done wrong? I had lived here all my life, enjoyed respect and peace.

"We lacked everything food, water, electricity, money. One day my son and I came very close to being hit by a road bomb. There was blood everywhere. I looked down at myself was I still in one piece, was I still alive? I was close to having a nervous breakdown. I decided to leave."

Al Waleed

"We slept with our clothes and gloves on under layers of blankets in the freezing cold tent. I didn't dare to light a fire; many tents had burnt down. Our toilet was a simple bucket. We could only have a bath once a month. My son then four was chronically ill. I was afraid his head was damaged from all the violence he had witnessed. He was angry all the time.

© UNHCR/M.Sidky
Children try to find ways to amuse themselves in Al Waleed camp, where Sawsan and her children lived before resettlement to Iceland.

"For a year I prayed to God to save my son. I told myself: ´I am a man, we will survive.' Then a lady from UNHCR came to interview me. For many hours, he listened. And then I got the news about Iceland. I had heard about Iceland at school and seen programmes on TV, but I had not really paid attention."


"Iceland is my second country, after Palestine. I was met at the airport by two of my Icelandic support families from the Red Cross project, while the other two support families waited at my new home, with sandwiches at one o'clock in the morning!

"Now, after language class my support families take me out to the movies, teach me to use the computer. We shop I love the flea markets or we cook falafel. No one looks at me with a bad eye. The other day a woman even came up to me at the supermarket and gave me a hug. My son loves to go to kindergarten. He has totally changed. He is happy, he listens to me he has even started to smile.

"The Icelandic government, the Akranes municipality and the Red Cross have given us everything we need. House, furniture, salary, food and clothes. What Iceland did for us is truly humanitarian. I have found care and peace at last. And now the sun is even shining. I keep asking myself: Am I dreaming?"




UNHCR country pages


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

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

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

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.
A new life for refugees from BhutanPlay video

A new life for refugees from Bhutan

They fled to Nepal from Bhutan amid ethnic tensions in the early 1990s. Now, many of the slightly more than 100,000 refugees have been offered the possibility of resettlement to another country.