Iraqi refugees leave Jordan, Syria in first resettlement to Germany

Briefing Notes, 20 March 2009

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 20 March 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The first group of Iraqi refugees destined for Germany from Syria and Jordan left yesterday on a specially chartered plane from Damascus. The 122 people were selected following a swift decision made by the German Interior Minister's conference in December 2008. Priority was given to refugees from persecuted minorities, vulnerable cases with specific medical needs, traumatized victims of persecution as well as female-headed households who have family in Germany.

Every family that was resettled yesterday had faced persecution in Iraq in the past three years. Among those who left were a man who survived a kidnapping, a family targeted for their moderate religious views and a young mother who has been living alone in Syria for the past year after her husband was abducted and never heard of again. She will be reunited with her parents who are now living in Germany; they will help to take care of her young children.

Germany was responding to a decision by the Council of the European Union on 27 November 2008 that encouraged the resettlement of up to 10,000 Iraqi refugees in 2009. The government is offering 2,500 places for Iraqi refugees 2,000 from Syria and 500 from Jordan. UNHCR very much appreciates the speed of the response by the German government; with this planeload of refugees departing only three months after the decision was made by the German Interior Ministers Conference on 5 December. Some countries can take years to resettle refugees.

This is the first time Germany has initiated such a programme since the early 1980s, when Vietnamese boat people were resettled. They are joining 15 other countries that have offered resettlement to Iraqi refugees since 2003. UNHCR supports a humanitarian resettlement programme which responds to the needs of the most vulnerable individuals.

Germany is providing a very positive example, which we hope will inspire other European countries to consider resettling Iraqi refugees during 2009. We estimate over 60,000 Iraqi refugees need resettlement from Iraq's neighbouring countries, the majority in Syria and Jordan. Last year 17,770 Iraqi refugees were resettled to third countries, mostly in the west. It is hoped a much larger number will be accepted and resettled this year.

There is huge pressure from the Iraqi refugee community for resettlement, as is seen every Tuesday morning when the UNHCR Damascus office conducts resettlement counselling sessions. For the past year, there have never been less than 2,000 refugees at these counselling days.

UNHCR hands over camp for internally displaced Iraqis: UNHCR has completed and handed over to Iraqi authorities a camp for internally displaced people at Bastasen, in Zharawa Sub-District, in the Kurdistan region. Establishment of the camp began in December. It was built to accommodate 45 displaced Iraqi families about 270 people who fled their homes in the insecure Iraq-Iran border region early last year. Two tents and a separate bathroom are allocated to each family in the camp, which covers an area of 8,280 square metres. A water system has also been installed.

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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

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

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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