Iraqi refugees leave Jordan, Syria in first resettlement to Germany

Briefing Notes, 20 March 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 March 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The first group of Iraqi refugees destined for Germany from Syria and Jordan left yesterday on a specially chartered plane from Damascus. The 122 people were selected following a swift decision made by the German Interior Minister's conference in December 2008. Priority was given to refugees from persecuted minorities, vulnerable cases with specific medical needs, traumatized victims of persecution as well as female-headed households who have family in Germany.

Every family that was resettled yesterday had faced persecution in Iraq in the past three years. Among those who left were a man who survived a kidnapping, a family targeted for their moderate religious views and a young mother who has been living alone in Syria for the past year after her husband was abducted and never heard of again. She will be reunited with her parents who are now living in Germany; they will help to take care of her young children.

Germany was responding to a decision by the Council of the European Union on 27 November 2008 that encouraged the resettlement of up to 10,000 Iraqi refugees in 2009. The government is offering 2,500 places for Iraqi refugees 2,000 from Syria and 500 from Jordan. UNHCR very much appreciates the speed of the response by the German government; with this planeload of refugees departing only three months after the decision was made by the German Interior Ministers Conference on 5 December. Some countries can take years to resettle refugees.

This is the first time Germany has initiated such a programme since the early 1980s, when Vietnamese boat people were resettled. They are joining 15 other countries that have offered resettlement to Iraqi refugees since 2003. UNHCR supports a humanitarian resettlement programme which responds to the needs of the most vulnerable individuals.

Germany is providing a very positive example, which we hope will inspire other European countries to consider resettling Iraqi refugees during 2009. We estimate over 60,000 Iraqi refugees need resettlement from Iraq's neighbouring countries, the majority in Syria and Jordan. Last year 17,770 Iraqi refugees were resettled to third countries, mostly in the west. It is hoped a much larger number will be accepted and resettled this year.

There is huge pressure from the Iraqi refugee community for resettlement, as is seen every Tuesday morning when the UNHCR Damascus office conducts resettlement counselling sessions. For the past year, there have never been less than 2,000 refugees at these counselling days.

UNHCR hands over camp for internally displaced Iraqis: UNHCR has completed and handed over to Iraqi authorities a camp for internally displaced people at Bastasen, in Zharawa Sub-District, in the Kurdistan region. Establishment of the camp began in December. It was built to accommodate 45 displaced Iraqi families about 270 people who fled their homes in the insecure Iraq-Iran border region early last year. Two tents and a separate bathroom are allocated to each family in the camp, which covers an area of 8,280 square metres. A water system has also been installed.