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UNHCR helps resettle 33 unaccompanied children from Tunisia to Norway

Making a Difference, 17 January 2012

© UNHCR/A.Branthwaite
A young boy plays in a special tent run by UNHCR and Save the Children for children, including unaccompanied minors, at Choucha transit camp.

CHOUCHA CAMP, Tunisia, January 17 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has helped resettle a group of 33 unaccompanied children who had spent months living in a special camp set up in Tunisia to provide shelter for people fleeing last year's political turmoil in neighbouring Libya.

The children, who left for Norway on Sunday, were among 90 who arrived unaccompanied from Libya during 2011. Some were already without parents when they first arrived in Libya; others lost their parents or became separated from them subsequently. Most are from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia or Eritrea.

They had been staying in Tunisia's Choucha camp, which is home to 3,400 refugees. The unaccompanied children have relied on help from friends and relatives, as well as local and international aid workers. In total, 39 of these 90 children have now been resettled most to Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

"As they had formed strong bonds among each other, the departure has been painful for many of them not least those still awaiting resettlement," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva. "Life at Choucha camp remains difficult, with windswept conditions and bitter cold. UNHCR and its partners hope that solutions can quickly be found for the unaccompanied children who remain there as well as for the other refugees who await solutions."

UNHCR provides assistance at Choucha, works with the children and their communities to establish the best interests of each child, advocates for resettlement and submits cases to resettlement countries. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides child-friendly orientation and arranges transportation to new homes. It arranged the weekend flight to Norway.

Edwards stressed that UNHCR considers resettlement to be the only viable option for the majority of recognized refugees who fled Libya to Tunisia and Egypt last year. Both countries allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants to stay temporarily before being repatriated in a joint IOM-UNHCR operation. UNHCR and IOM have called upon states, especially European countries, to offer more resettlement places for the remaining refugees at the borders of Egypt and Tunisia.

UNHCR has completed refugee status determination for all 2,500 applicants in Choucha camp and 2,200 have been recognized as refugees. Together with an additional 800 people who were recognized as refugees in Libya before the unrest of 2011, more than 3,000 refugees have been submitted for resettlement from the camp.

Meanwhile at Egypt's Saloum border crossing with Libya, around 1,400 people have been submitted for resettlement out of 1,830 there.

Resettlement referrals for both Choucha and Saloum have been submitted and accepted by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United States. Most recently, Germany, New Zealand and Spain have joined the resettlement effort by planning to send selection missions to the two camps.

UNHCR is calling on resettlement countries to expedite decisions on submissions. Currently only one out of five refugees submitted has been accepted, and only one out of six, or 731 refugees, has actually departed. UNHCR's emergency transit centres in Romania and Slovakia are providing crucial additional space for refugees to be interviewed for onward resettlement from both Tunisia and Egypt, notably to the United States and the Netherlands.

By Adrian Edwards

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Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Resettlement

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

UNHCR Resettlement Handbook and Country Chapters

July 2011 edition of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.

Children

Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

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

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Iraq: Children traumatised by the terror of flightPlay video

Iraq: Children traumatised by the terror of flight

When militants attacked Sinjar and other towns in northern Iraq in early August, tens of thousands of people fled into the mountains. They included many traumatised children, whose lives were brutally disrupted by violence and their sudden displacement.
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.