Monday 20, July 2009
Bratislava, 20 July 2009 – A cooperation agreement signed on Monday between UNHCR, the Slovak Government and the (International Organisation for Migration) provides the first signal of hope to Palestinian refugees who have been trapped in the desert camp of Al Walid at the Iraqi-Jordanian border for over six years.
In late August, 98 Palestinian refugees will be transferred to a reception centre in Humenné in north-eastern Slovakia for up to six months so they can await their onwards movement to their final resettlement countries in safety and reasonable comfort.
The Agreement was signed by the Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, by UNHCR’s Deputy Director of the Division of International Protection, Vincent Cochetel and by IOM’s Regional Director Argentina Szabados.
During the signing ceremony, Minister Kalinak said that this Government was happy to extend this act of solidarity with the most vulnerable. He said that the evacuation of those Palestinian was consistent with the plans of the Swedish EU Presidency to develop a European resettlement programme.
The tri-partite agreement enables UNHCR and IOM to evacuate another group of Palestinians from the Al Walid camp where the refugees live under appalling conditions.
“The evacuation is a matter of life and death for those refugees,” says Vincent Cochetel. As international troops are disengaging for Iraq, they also plan to withdraw form the area around Al Walid in December. The refugees would stay without any international protection if we do not get them out by then.”
Following continuous attacks by the local populations the Palestinians were forced to flee from Baghdad in 2003 but were not allowed to enter Jordan and stayed in the makeshift camp in the middle of nowhere.
During their stay in Humenné the refugees will receive medical care as necessary. To prepare them for their new home countries, they will have language classes cultural orientation courses to familiarise themselves with their new home countries.
Slovakia is the second EU state to offer evacuation capacities for this group. More than 250 refugees from Al Walid were already evacuated to Timisoara, Romania over the last couple of months. Their resettlement is under way. The representative of IOM, Argentina Szabados, said she hoped that his model project would be followed by more EU countries.
While the Palestinians in Al Walid are eagerly waiting the time of departure, UNHCR, IOM and the Slovak authorities are busy with the technical preparations in order to prepare a smooth transition.
Humenné staff will go on a study visit to the Transit evacuation Centre in Timisoara to learn from the experiences gained there. Exit visa for Iraq and Jordan, flight arrangements and entry visa for Slovakia need to be prepared.
In Humenné, preparations for recreational activities for adults and for children are in full swing. “After all the hardship these refugees had to go through, it is time they get some respite. Such activities will put them at ease, decrease their anxiety and help them prepare their new lives in their new home countries,” says Vincent Cochetel.
By Melita H. Sunjic