First Iraqi family departs Jordan for resettlement in Germany
AMMAN, Jordan, March 16 (UNHCR) - Germany's plans to resettle 2,500 Iraqi refugees got under way earlier this month when a young couple flew out of Jordan with their sickly son, who will receive urgent medical treatment in their new homeland.
The German decision to take in refugees currently resident in Jordan and Syria is part of a decision by the European Union to accept 10,000 of the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement. A total 500 refugees in Jordan will go to Germany and 2,000 from Syria - the first flight from Damascus is expected later this week.
For Abu Salam* and his wife, resettlement had taken on added urgency because of the health of their 10-month-old son, who was born with a heart defect. The father, clutching a passport, could not hide his excitement as he prepared to board a plane at Amman's Queen Alia Airport last Wednesday.
The Iraqi couple were distraught when they found out about their son's condition and approached UNHCR's office in Amman for help. After a thorough screening, the UN refugee agency recommended they be resettled in Germany.
Salam said he could not speak German, but that did not bother him. "My number one priority right now is my son. All I can think about is him having the surgery and getting well," he stressed.
Germany, a long-time financial contributor to UNHCR, has resettled tens of thousands of refugees from South America, Asia and Europe in recent decades. The government's decision to establish a programme for Iraqis from the region has been welcomed as a sign of burden-sharing.
Since the beginning of this year, UNHCR's Amman office has given Germany the names of 330 people for resettlement consideration. This month, about 70 of these individuals are due to depart.
"The rapidity with which this resettlement programme has begun is a testament to the humanitarian determination of Germany to assist vulnerable Iraqis who need special assistance and protection," said Imran Riza, UNHCR's representative in Jordan. "We hope that similar deserving cases will soon find care and hope in Germany as well as other European countries."
Riza said that with this quota, "UNHCR is in a position to better address the needs of specific target groups such as minorities and those with particular vulnerabilities."
Jordan has played host to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, showing great hospitality and allowing them access to public education and health services.
Some 53,000 Iraqis are currently registered with the UNHCR Jordan office, which has recommended resettlement for 17,000 people. More than 9,000 have been accepted by over a dozen countries.
Repatriation remains the ideal solution for Iraqi refugees. Though UNHCR is not promoting large-scale returns, the agency is providing assistance on a case-by-case basis to those wishing to return to Iraq. Since last September, some 320 people have returned through this programme from Jordan.
* Name changed for protection purposes
By Ma'aly Hazzaz and Ziad Ayad in Amman, Jordan