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A facility in Romania provides refugees with a gateway to a new life

News Stories, 19 August 2013

© UNHCR/A.Anca
Since Mohamed arrived from Salloum, a camp on the Egyptian-Libyan frontier, he has been taking driving lessons and studying English in preparation for resettlement to the USA.

TIMISOARA, Romania, 19 August (UNHCR) After almost two years in a harsh desert camp on the Egyptian-Libyan border, Mohamed arrived in Timisoara's Emergency Transit Centre. Although the ETC is only a temporary stop while Mohamed, a 28-year-old Sudanese, and other refugees await moves to new homes in other countries, it is a welcome santuary.

"I was so happy to get here," said Mohamed, a former veterinary student forced to leave his family behind in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. "I felt safe! There is water, food and a peaceful place to sleep."

Timisoara gives refugees more than life's necessities. Mohamed now attends UNHCR-funded English classes in preparation for his imminent resettlement to the U.S. state of Iowa.

The ETC is a safe-haven where refugees are assured six-months protection while they complete the procedures necessary for resettlement, including interviews with officials from countries accepting them; providing photographs and fingerprints; undergoing medical checks and psychological counselling; and learning the languages of their new homes.

While UNHCR covers most of the costs -- including food, clothing, personal items and utilities -- the Romanian government provides the accommodation and security.

"We are here to offer support and we are even proud to offer this support," said the ETC's Romanian administrator Filimon Pitea, who remembers the not-so-distant past when waves of Romanians fled communism to seek a new start elsewhere. "We have a sense of fulfillment. It is a good feeling to know that we are doing something to help our fellow human beings."

The centre in western Romania can accommodate up to 200 people at a time -- in July there were 164 refugees from Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea,, and Somalia housed in the ETC, with more arrivals expected out of Syria.

Although the ETC offers refugees many things, it is not a home. Residents can leave only if escorted by social workers, such as representatives of the social work NGO Generatia Tanara (GRT) who accompany residents to shops, the cinema and even hairdressers in the nearby city of Timisoara.

Since it was established, the Timisoara ETC has provided temporary shelter to a total of 1,230 refugees with 1,085 finding new homes in resettlement countries such as the USA, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Australia and Norway.

Ali Osman, a 20-year-old Eritrean, spent two terrifying years in a Yemeni jail with other Eritreans for illegal entry before UNHCR was able to gain their release. "I was in prison with murderers," Ali said as he headed to a Finnish class to prepare for a new life in the Nordic country.

The GTR's Andrea Lampinen offers trauma counselling. She says the youngest refugees seem to have the easiest time adapting to a new life but all the people who come to the ETC are "real-life heroes" because of what they've endured and overcome.

"For absolutely all of those here, the past is painful and traumatic," Lampinen said. "I try to convince them that life can be better and that it is largely in their hands what they decide to do from now on."

According to Lampinen, the question is: "Will they continue to be victims or will they take hold of their lives and fight for themselves, for their families?" For many refugees, personal hardship is not over.

For Mohamed, worries about his family and his past are never far away. "I know I have to look forward to the future and leave the past," he said, "but that's hard. I just want to cry inside sometimes."

By Andreea Anca in Timisoara, Romania

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Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Tunisia's tented transit camp

A new camp full of UNHCR tents, has sprung up close to Tunisia's border with Libya to provide shelter to thousands of migrant workers desperate to get hope. The UNHCR-run facility is already full, with 15,000 people from around Africa and Asia who have fled from Libya.

Most of the new arrivals are penniless and have no hope of making it home on their own. Many of the sub-Saharan Africans arriving at the camp say they fled because of threats and abuse, with some being attacked and robbed in their homes as well as at the checkpoints that have sprung up along many roads in Libya. Non-African arrivals also report having their belongings taken at the checkpoints, but say they have not been the victims of racism and threats.

With people continuing to arrive daily, UNHCR and other agencies are bracing themselves for what could be a large-scale humanitarian disaster if the fighting worsens and if large numbers of Libyans try to flee their country.

Tunisia's tented transit camp

Nyakabande: A haven in Uganda from the storm in North Kivu

The Nyakabande Transit Centre in southern Uganda was reopened by UNHCR and the Ugandan government in February 2012 to cope with a growing number of Congolese civilians crossing the border to escape general lawlessness in Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) North Kivu province. Initially designed to cope with 500 people, the transit centre has been swamped with new arrivals fleeing waves of violence since April between DRC government forces and fighters from the rebel M23 movement. UNHCR helped expand capacity to 11,000 people and arranged transport from the border, but the inflow placed a severe strain on the facilities. The centre has registered and assisted more than 51,000 people since January, most of them from North Kivu. At its peak, last July, the transit centre was hosting more than 10,000 refugees. In a bid to decongest the centre, UNHCR provided transport for more than 30,000 Congolese to the refugee settlement at Rwamwanja, some 350 kilometres to the north of Nyakabande. For many of those fleeing eastern DRC, Nyakabande was a beacon of hope and a haven from the storm convulsing their home region. The latest fighting in North Kivu in November has not had much of an impact, but people still arrive daily.

Nyakabande: A haven in Uganda from the storm in North Kivu

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