Eritrean refugees arrive in Romanian emergency transit centre from Tunisia

News Stories, 20 April 2011

© UNHCR/ M. Varzariu/ April 2011
The Eritreans arrive at the emergency transit centre in Timișoara earlier today.

TIMISOARA, Romania, April 20 (UNHCR) Thirty Eritrean refugees have arrived at an emergency transit centre in western Romania after fleeing Libya and spending weeks in a crowded camp in Tunisia as UNHCR and its partners sought a solution for them.

The Eritreans, including three women and a boy, will spend up to six months in the centre in Timisoara before being resettled in the United States and the Netherlands.

Unlike most of the foreigners who have fled from Libya since mid-February, hundreds of Eritreans and Somalis stuck on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders with Libya cannot return to their countries because their lives would be at risk.

This is the first group to be flown out of the country ahead of resettlement. Their evacuation was organized by the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Romanian government. UNHCR officials said more were expected.

The Eritreans said they fled their country to escape forced military recruitment and claimed that they had been detained and physically abused in Libya. People from sub-Saharan Africa have also been at risk in Libya because of rumours that the government was using them as mercenaries.

One 36-year-old refugee, after thanking UNHCR "for saving me and my brothers, said he had spent six year in a Libyan prison.

Eritreans who made it to Tunisia have had to remain in the Choucha transit camp as tens of thousands of workers from other countries in Egypt and Asia were repatriated by their governments or UNHCR and the IOM. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has repeatedly urged resettlement countries to help the refugees.

Meanwhile in Geneva, UNHCR on Wednesday presented its Global Resettlement Solidarity initiative to resettlement countries. This programme is aimed at addressing the resettlement needs in Egypt and Tunisia arising out of the Libya crisis. UNHCR called on the resettlement countries to provide 8,000 dedicated places for the refugees at the borders with Libya.

"We call on states to provide additional places [to their current resettlement quotas]," stressed Johannes van der Klaauw, UNHCR's senior resettlement coordinator. "The numbers of people in need of resettlement from Tunisia and Egypt increases by the day and may soon be in the thousands rather than the hundreds," he added.

Van der Klaauw also noted that resettlement out of the region could ensure that fewer of these vulnerable refugees risk taking dangerous boat journeys across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. More than 500 people are known to have lost their lives attempting the crossing in recent weeks.

The Timisoara Emergency Transit Centre was set up in 2008 by the Romanian government, UNHCR and the IOM to house people in urgent need of international protection until their resettlement applications have been processed. It can accommodate up to 200 people and has hosted more than 600 refugees since opening, including Eritreans, Sudanese, Palestinians, Ethiopians, Sri Lankans, Iraqis and Nigerians.

By Roland Schönbauer in Timisoara, Romania and Leo Dobbs in Geneva

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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

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

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