1 Refugee Without Hope: Sick Afghan girl gets new Finnish start

Telling the Human Story, 28 September 2011

© UNHCR/D.Faramarzi
Fatemeh (far right) and her family wait to talk to UNHCR staff in Tehran last year.

TEHRAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, September 28 (UNHCR) Nine-year-old Fatemeh was whisked off to Finland last Christmas. While other children would have envied her chance to visit the home of Santa Claus, Fatemeh had other priorities to fight for her life.

The Afghan refugee suffers from what is believed to be a rare congenital epileptic disease that attacks her brain cells. Born to parents who fled Kabul during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan more than 30 years ago, she grew up in different cities in neighbouring Iran.

She was taken out of school due to her deteriorating health and could not access the special treatment that was needed. Her elder brother, Mohammed, suffered from the same disease and faced similar problems. Life was a struggle as their parents took on odd jobs such as tailoring and construction work to be able to afford the children's treatment.

Believing that 1 Refugee Without Hope is Too Many, UNHCR recommended this family for urgent resettlement to Finland on medical grounds. Unfortunately Mohammed's condition deteriorated quickly and he died just before they left for Finland on December 25 last year. He was only 12.

Nine months later, the family is still mourning him. But Fatemeh's parents are trying to look ahead. They hope their daughter's condition will improve and that she will do well in life.

"She is better now, and is back in school," said her father, Vahid, reached by telephone. "Medical treatment in Finland is very advanced. Fatemeh has made progress and her deterioration has slowed down. In Iran, she would not be able to access this kind of treatment."

Finnish doctors are working to diagnose her disease, failing which she may suffer the same fate as her brother.

In the meantime, Fatemeh is learning Finnish, which she hopes will help her integrate more easily into her new home and allow her to attend school formally.

"I am taking language classes now and have friends from Russia, Taiwan and other countries."

Her parents are also taking language courses to improve their chances of finding jobs in Finland. They would like to pay back their new country for all the generosity it has shown them.

Asked about life in Finland, Vahid said, "It is good. In Iran we were worried about the renewal of our refugee cards and we struggled economically. Here we are not working yet. While receiving a small amount of money to live on, we are eagerly trying to integrate into Finnish society."

This year, UNHCR has secured 1,350 resettlement places for refugees in Iran as part of the agency's efforts to seek durable solutions and share the burden with Iran, which has hosted millions of Afghan refugees in recent decades.

Globally, the UN refugee agency estimates that more than 780,000 vulnerable refugees like Fatemeh need to be resettled to third countries, including some 172,000 this year. However, only about 80,000 places are offered annually by the 22 resettlement countries meeting less than 10 per cent of the needs.

Fatemeh is one of the lucky few who have been given a chance to start her life anew. "I hope to get better and be a teacher some day," she said.

By Dina Faramarzi in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

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1 refugee without hope is too many. Every day, millions of refugees face murder, rape and terror. We believe even 1 is too many.

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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

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

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