News Stories, 13 March 2009
TIMISOARA, Romania, March 13 (UNHCR) – Europe's first emergency transit centre (ETC) for refugees was formally opened in the Romanian city of Timisoara this week with a top UNHCR official saying it sets a good precedent for other countries to follow.
The ETC was set up last year by the Romanian government, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide a temporary haven for refugees in urgent need of evacuation from their first asylum countries due to life-threatening conditions. They can stay for up to six months before being resettled in third countries.
It received its first group of refugees, 40 Eritreans, last November and all have been found resettlement homes. In December and January, almost 140 Sudanese refugees from Darfur were flown to Timisoara. The Africans had been living in Iraq, where they were stuck in desert camps after fleeing abuse, blackmail, eviction and assault by militias following the 2003 downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime.
At Thursday's ceremony in Timisoara, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erica Feller welcomed the formal opening of the ETC. "The importance of this centre far exceeds the numbers of persons who will pass though it," she said, adding: "It is rapidly becoming not only a key protection tool for UNHCR, but also a very good precedent encouraging other countries in other parts of the world to make a similar humanitarian gesture."
She also thanked the Romanian authorities and the IOM "for the courage and foresight to cooperate with UNHCR on this very important initiative."
Toma Rus, secretary of state at Romania's Ministry of Interior and Administration, said his country had received very positive feedback following the opening of the centre, particularly from Europe and North America.