Resettlement of Palestinians to Iceland

Briefing Notes, 5 September 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 5 September 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A total of 29 vulnerable Palestinian refugees stranded for the last two years in a makeshift camp in the desert on the Iraq-Syria border are set to leave Monday to begin a new life in Iceland. The group includes some of the most vulnerable refugee women, several of whom lost their husbands during the conflict in Iraq and their children. Given their vulnerability, UNHCR considers resettlement their only option and we appreciate Iceland's decision to accept them.

Iceland takes 25 to 30 refugees for resettlement annually and in recent years has focused in particular on resettling single women and single mothers with their children. In previous years, the country resettled Colombians and refugees from the Balkans, including Kosovars. Iceland has actively supported UNHCR in our efforts to broaden the base of new resettlement countries. It has also offered to act as a 'mentor' for new resettlement countries, particularly on how to help refugees integrate in their new home.

An estimated 2,300 Palestinians are still living in desperate conditions in two refugee camps along the Iraq-Syria border Al Waleed inside Iraq, and Al Tanf in the no-man's land between the Iraqi and Syrian borders.

Of the estimated 34,000 Palestinians who lived in Iraq in 2003, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 remain. Al Waleed camp is presently home to more than 1,400 refugees, while Al Tanf camp has doubled in size since October 2007, with some 900 refugees living there.

Another group of 155 Palestinians from Al Tanf are scheduled to resettle soon to Sweden.

The summers in the desert camp are excruciatingly hot, while in winter temperatures can drop to the freezing point. In general, living conditions are extremely harsh, with minimal services. Snakes and scorpions are common. Lacking proper medical care, the health of many refugees has become increasingly dire. Palestinian health workers in Al Waleed who see patients every day have identified medical conditions ranging from diabetes and birth defects to kidney problems, cancer and serious trauma. The nearest proper medical facility in Iraq is more than 400 kilometres away and patients have to be transported by taxi.

UNHCR has repeatedly called for international support for the Palestinians, but with few results. Few Palestinians in the border camps have been accepted for resettlement or offered shelter in third countries. Only some 300 Palestinians have gone to non-traditional resettlement countries such as Brazil and Chile. Some urgent medical cases were taken by a few European countries, but this is a very small proportion of the 2,300 Palestinians stranded in the desert.

UNHCR continues to advocate for alternative humane solutions in the hope that all of the Palestinians will be able to leave the harsh conditions of the camps. Their relocation would in no way jeopardize their right to return at any stage, if and when such a possibility arises.

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Resettlement

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

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

Through the Clouds to Germany: One Syrian Family's Journey

On Wednesday, Germany launched a humanitarian programme to provide temporary shelter and safety to up to 5,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. A first group of 107 flew to Hanover in the northern city of Hanover. They will attend cultural orientation courses to prepare them for life over the next two years in Germany, where they will be able to work, study and access basic services. Among the group are Ahmad and his family, including a son who is deaf and needs constant care that was not available in Lebanon. The family fled from Syria in late 2012 after life became too dangerous and too costly in the city of Aleppo, where Ahmad sold car spare parts. Photographer Elena Dorfman followed the family in Beirut as they prepared to depart for the airport and their journey to Germany.

Through the Clouds to Germany: One Syrian Family's Journey

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlementPlay video

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlement

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehousePlay video

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehouse

An Iraqi man who turned down resettlement to the U.S. in 2006 tells how it feels now to be a "refugee" in his own country, in limbo, hoping to restart life in another Iraqi city.
Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.