• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Group of 153 refugees leave Malawi for new lives in Denmark

News Stories, 29 March 2007

© UNHCR/J.Redden
The six members of Congolese refugee Elias Ekyamba's family, including his studious four-year-old son Grace, left behind their hut in the refugee camp in Malawi for a new life in Denmark.

DZALEKA REFUGEE CAMP, Malawi, March 29 (UNHCR) Each week a group of refugees in Malawi collect a grant from the UN refugee agency and make an unlikely search for clothes that will keep them warm in Denmark's northern European winter.

Life for 153 refugees is changing drastically: the weather, the food in the shops, the schools their children will attend, the homes they will live in. Above all, in Denmark they will have a chance to again take charge of their own lives.

"Life will be different but it will be better," said Michelin Kakonge, shortly before leaving Malawi for Denmark with her three children on March 19. "Here, I am just sitting waiting to get monthly food rations, but there I will be able to work and support myself."

The 44-year-old Congolese widow and her three daughters aged 14, 13 and 10 had been living in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, which is operated by the government and UNHCR, since arriving in Malawi in September 2000. Her husband had been killed by government soldiers, who then came looking for her. With no one to help support the family, she sold most of the monthly food ration provided to refugees to buy other essentials.

Refugee camps are welcome sights to anyone escaping war and persecution; but they are not places where many people would choose to spend their lives. Malawi has been generous in accepting refugees, most from around the Great Lakes region further north, but it is a poor, crowded country that presents few prospects of a normal life for refugees. Chances to work or grow their own food will always be limited.

"Life here is very difficult," said Lisette Kabange, whose husband was targeted over his work monitoring human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). "We are not working; we are just waiting for rations."

Kabange was due to move with her husband, her three young children, two sisters and a brother-in-law in the next of the staged departures to Denmark. The 32-year-old Congolese woman, who wants to study nursing, said she would start by adding Danish to the French, Swahili and tribal languages she speaks.

Danish officials selected the Burundian and Congolese refugees late last year from cases presented by UNHCR. Most were victims of the violence that has plagued their home regions or were at continuing risk widowed women heading families, people fleeing persecution.

Resettlement is not offered to every refugee, or even many. The solution for most of the millions of refugees around the world is voluntary repatriation or integration in the host country. Only when there is no possibility of that outcome, or clear risks in remaining, is resettlement the desired solution. The decision to accept refugees for resettlement is made by receiving countries, not the refugee agency.

UNHCR emphasises that the number resettled less than 30,000 worldwide in 2006 is limited and is anxious to ensure resettlement programmes do not act as magnets attracting applicants who will never qualify. Although UNHCR resettled 635 refugees from Malawi in 2006 a high number for a country with only about 9,000 refugees the number will drop this year.

"We are looking at refugees who are victims of violence or torture and people at risk," said Dawn Sparks de la Rosa, a consultant in UNHCR's Malawi office who has overseen the resettlement to Denmark. "Most refugees would not meet the criteria for resettlement."

The 153 refugees destined for Denmark including two born since interviews for resettlement were conducted began moving on February 19. Further departures were set for March 5, 12, 19 and 20 with the final group leaving on April 2.

UNHCR provides those departing with a grant of US$70 to buy warm clothing, though they need more on arrival because shops in Malawi with daily temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius would never stock heavy coats.

On arrival, they are dispersed to towns around Denmark and begin the process of integration including two years of language instruction. It is likely to be successful; after the suffering these refugees experienced, they are anxious to start new lives.

"I will integrate because I have no intention to return to my country," said Elias Ekyamba, a 34-year-old French teacher who fled DRC in 2001 after his mother was killed and he was targeted for being from the wrong tribe. His wife and four children stood smiling outside their grass-roofed hut, beside a door covered in flattened food aid tins. "I intend to be part of Danish society," he stressed.

By Jack Redden in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi




UNHCR country pages


An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

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

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education ministerPlay video

From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education minister

The subject of the best-selling book What is the What, Valentino Achak Deng's journey has taken him from Sudanese 'Lost Boy' to education minister in his home state in South Sudan. He talks here about the causes of displacement, the risks of politicizing refugee resettlement, and the opportunities that come with staying positive.
IOM Director General Swing Remarks on the Resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in NepalPlay video

IOM Director General Swing Remarks on the Resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in Nepal

The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked a major milestone: the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan in Nepal to third countries since the launch of the programme in 2007.
High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in NepalPlay video

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in Nepal

The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked a major milestone: the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan in Nepal to third countries since the launch of the programme in 2007.