News Stories, 17 December 2008
TIMISOARA, Romania, December 17 (UNHCR) – After an incredible journey fraught with danger and hardship, a group of 97 Sudanese refugees from Darfur arrived in Romania Wednesday en route to a new life after years stuck in a desert camp in Iraq.
The Sudanese, most of whom fled Darfur in the late 1980s, arrived in the Romanian city of Timisoara after being flown by UNHCR from the Jordanian capital, Amman. They had earlier been taken by road from the makeshift K-70 camp in Iraq
Once in Romania, the group was transported in four buses to a new Emergency Transit Centre set up by the Romanian government, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for people – like them – in urgent need of international protection.
"Our lives had been suspended while we were in Iraq," one of the refugees told a UNHCR staff member in Timisoara. "But this is a new beginning for us."
The refugees will stay in Timisoara until their applications for resettlement in other countries are processed. This first group will be followed by another 42 Sudanese refugees, who are expected to leave Iraq next month.
"The refugees are keen to get on with their lives. The children are playing football in the centre's courtyard," said Kahin Ismail, a UNHCR protection officer in Iraq, who accompanied them on the plane to Timisoara.
In Iraq, the refugees suffered abuse, blackmail, eviction and assault by militias following the 2003 downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime. A total of 17 Sudanese were killed between December 2004 and February 2005.
Because of this targeting, the refugees tried to flee Iraq but became stranded in the Al Anbar desert in the K-70 camp outside Al Rutbah town, some 75 km east of the Jordan-Iraq border. Conditions in the camp were described by UNHCR staff as "very harsh." The refugees lived in tents and endured desert sandstorms, soaring daytime temperatures and freezing weather at night.
"This is one of the most vulnerable groups of refugees in Iraq," UNHCR's Ismail said. There are some 42,000 refugees from various nationalities registered by UNHCR in Iraq.
Since the group departed Sudan, conditions in Darfur have deteriorated. The refugees said they did not want to go back to Darfur because they feared that they would end up being displaced.
The Emergency Transit Centre in Timisoara is the first of its kind in Europe. It can accommodate up to 200 people and will provide a temporary safe haven for individuals or groups who need to be evacuated immediately from life-threatening situations before being resettled to other countries.