Wednesday 28, January 2009
28 January 2009 – The lives of 138 refugees from Iraq have improved enormously since their evacuation and temporary placement in the Evacuation Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara, Romania. Prior to their relocation to the new facility these Sudanese families had been squatting in a snake infested tented camp in the desert for four years.
“Here, I do not mind the winter nor the cold. We are staying in proper buildings and the rooms are warm,” says Hamid* (17) who just got up to see his first winter morning in Timisoara. The young man was among the last group of 42 Sudanese refugees to arrive at the ETC on Tuesday in the early hours. Over the last weeks, a total of 138 refugees have been evacuated from the infamous K-70 camp in Iraq, close to the Jordanian border. The camp is now being closed down
“We could not leave the camp,” says Hamid. “The moment Iraqis saw our dark skin, they would attack us. It was horrible.” Social workers at the ETC told UNHCR that many of the new arrivals are still traumatised and take a few days to realise that it is safe for them to leave their rooms and move about the camp or even go to downtown Timisoara on visits organised by the camp management.
Luckily, children have no such fears. While journalists, Romanian government officials and a UNHCR delegation walk around the camp to welcome the new group, the little ones have already conquered the camp playground and are shouting with joy. In their new warm winter clothes they can play outside not being afraid of snake bites or dangerous insects.
The Evacuation Transit Centre was established in 2008 to provide a temporary safe haven for refugees pending final resettlement in a third country. It is jointly managed by UNHCR, the Romanian Government and the International Organization for Migration.
“The Centre has a life-saving function”, says Machiel Salomons, UNHCR Representative to Romania. “We are now able to immediately evacuate refugees if their security is jeopardised or they face forcible return to the country of persecution.”
The evacuees can stay at the ETC for up to six months while their resettlement claim is being processed. In the case of the Sudanese refugees from Iraq, the United States of America have agreed to offer them group resettlement.
For the time being, the Sudanese refugees are just happy to be here. After a 20-hour journey by bus and plane they have arrived in Timisoara in the middle of the night, were assigned their rooms and slept peacefully for the first time in many years.
Rawasse* and her family of five already came to the ETC a few weeks ago with the first group. Not speaking English, the middle aged woman still wants to show her visitors around. She proudly points out the clean warm rooms and the radiators, the toilets and showers, kitchenettes and laundry rooms of the building. Look, warm and cold running water, Rawasse gestures.
Meanwhile the newly arrivals are getting acquainted with the new premises. The older children have already discovered the camp class room and are chatting with their new teacher.
“Here is good, I happy,” says little Zaman* in broken English. Here we learn, we study.” His older brother Khalid* (17) is already looking further into the future. “In the US, I want to study at the university. I do not know what, I will go there and see. Ask me next year,” he says
By Melita H, Sunjic
* Not their real names