Iraqi refugee family traverses half the globe seeking a new home
News Stories, 27 December 2006
CISARUA, Indonesia, December 27 (UNHCR) – Adrift in Indonesia at the age of 36, Iraqi Hassan Jaber El Badri has been a refugee since he was an infant. After a circuitous, dangerous trip at the hands of people smugglers, Hassan and his family are finally safe, but frustrated that four years here in West Java have apparently brought them no closer to a permanent home.
"Most of our friends have left," laments Hana, Hassan's wife. "They are now living happily in Canada, Australia, Norway and other countries, while we remain here, living in uncertainty and continue to wait. When will it be our turn to live in a place that we can call home?"
In an effort to find them a permanent home where they will be safe, UNHCR has asked several countries to consider accepting Hassan's family for resettlement.
"While Indonesia is very generous in allowing asylum seekers and refugees to stay here temporarily, the country does not so far permit integration," said Robert Ashe, UNHCR's regional representative in Jakarta. "For that reason, we submit cases like Hassan's family to third countries for resettlement."
What is clear is that, apart from the difficult security situation in his homeland, Hassan would find it very difficult to go back to Iraq. At the age of two, Hassan was taken by his mother and brother to Iran, to join his father, who had fled the oppressive Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
After growing up in exile, marrying another exiled Iraqi in Iran and having three daughters, Hassan tired of his illegal existence. "There was no sense of normality in Iran," he recalled. "We could not work and our children could not go to school."
"We wanted to go to Australia to start a new and better life there like my friend, who was already living in Australia," Hassan said.
In October 2001, Hassan and his family left Iran, flew to Malaysia and took a boat to Medan, Indonesia, from where they had been told they could catch a smuggler's boat to Australia. In a Medan hotel, he handed over US$1,400 for passage for his wife and himself; the three girls travelled free. At the hotel, he was astonished to find hundreds of other families from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan – all seeking a better life in Australia.
Packed into a boat with hundreds of other people, Hassan and his family sailed for seven days before their vessel was intercepted by the Australian authorities and turned back to Indonesia.
But worse was to come. "The ship on which we sailed back to Indonesia crashed into coral reefs surrounding a remote island in Indonesia," he said. "The three people representing the broker who were supposed to accompany us suddenly just vanished into thin air."
"We almost died of starvation because there was no food, and all my daughters were sick," added Hana.
The passengers walked along the beach until they met some local people, who brought them to a mosque where they were allowed to stay for the night. Later, the International Organization for Migration put them up in a hotel in Lombok, where they were interviewed by the UN refugee agency a year later.
Now that they have refugee status, UNHCR is looking for a resettlement country to accept them. Their dream country, Australia, has rejected them once, but is now taking a second look.
As a humanitarian gesture, "Australia has recently indicated a willingness to review refugee cases such as Hassan's," said UNHCR's Ashe. "He still has the possibility of being accepted by Australia, but there are no guarantees. The decision is entirely up to the Australian government."
In the meantime, the family is finding life in limbo difficult. Hassan's eldest daughter often weeps and asks her parents:"When can we live like other people who have better lives, who can gather together with their families?"
Hassan tries to comfort his children. "Of course it is difficult to be a refugee, but I am sure that, one day, one of the countries will eventually accept us." And they are trying to make the best of their life in Indonesia, socialising with Indonesian friends and speaking Bahasa Indonesia fluently.
Their daughters, now aged 14, 12 and 8, study at the local school and take courses – English, Arabic and computers – at the local refugee centre. His wife teaches knitting and sewing to other refugees there, and Hassan teaches them computer skills.
"Because returning to Iraq or Iran is not an option, and continued stay in Indonesia is impossible, we continue to seek resettlement in a third country as the best way to protect Hassan and his family," says Ashe.
"By finding solutions for such cases in other countries, we are able to encourage Indonesia to continue its tolerant approach in allowing asylum seekers and refugees to stay here on a temporary basis."
By Anita Restu in Cisarua, Indonesia
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A relevant handbook on the reception and integration of resettled refugees.
A repository for exchanging ideas on resettlement partnerships, June 2011.
An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.
July 2011 edition of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.
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Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.
UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.
As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.
Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp
Crisis in Iraq: Displacement
UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.
In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities
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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement
Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan
After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.
Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.
Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.
Posted on 20 February 2007