Palestinian refugees from Iraq heading to Brazil

Palestinian children stranded in the isolated Rweished refugee camp at the Iraq-Jordan border. (A.van Genderen Stort/UNHCR)

AMMAN, 4 July 2007 (IRIN) - After spending over four years languishing in a refugee camp in the Jordanian desert, 100 Palestinian refugees from Iraq will finally be heading to their new home — Brazil.

A statement by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said the group, which includes children and the elderly, will start moving from Rweished refugee camp, 60km from the Jordanian-Iraqi border, to Brazil by September.

“The UNHCR is grateful to … the government of Brazil for resettling an estimated 100 Palestinian refugees who formerly lived in Iraq,” said the statement made available to IRIN.

The refugees will be sent to their new country in three batches, with priority given to the elderly and families with children.

According to the plan, an estimated 22 families will be settled in Sao Paulo state, while 18 families will go to Rio Grande do Sul, in the southeast and southern regions of Brazil, said the statement.

Unaccompanied elderly refugees will be settled in a home for the elderly where medical treatment is to be provided.

Assistance for 24 months

All will receive rented accommodation, furniture and material assistance for up to 24 months. Employment profiles are being analysed to ensure job opportunities for all, while a network of volunteers and local communities is being established to provide moral support during their integration.

Children will attend classes in Portuguese, before being enrolled in Brazilian schools in March 2008.

The group is currently receiving training by a team of humanitarian professionals from Brazil on Brazilian culture and is being given Portuguese lessons.

Rweished refugee camp

The Jordanian government set up the camp in 2003 in the middle of the desert with the help of international humanitarian groups to accommodate an expected influx of refugees in light of the war on Iraq.

The camp housed more than 2,000 people during the first days of war, before the Jordanian authorities decided to stop receiving more asylum seekers for fear of attracting millions of refugees from the war-torn country.

Over the past four years, most of the refugees — from Sudan, Iran, Kurdistan, Iraq and Palestine — were resettled in third countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Scandinavian countries and the USA.

Residents of the Rweished camp have been complaining of arduous living conditions due to the extreme weather, with blinding sandstorms in summer and bone-penetrating cold in winter.

“[Camp residents] have faced extremely harsh conditions in a dusty and scorpion-infested desert camp with nowhere to go,” said the statement.

The Palestinians are the first group of refugees from outside Latin America to benefit from the “solidarity resettlement programmes” which were proposed in the 2004 Mexico Plan of Action, the statement said.

Humanitarian solution

The plan, which was adopted by 20 Latin American countries, has so far only benefited refugees from the region — mainly Colombians. Brazil’s offer will provide a humanitarian solution for Palestinians who have been in the Jordanian camp since 2003.

The UNHCR office in Brazil will also help the new arrivals better integrate into the Brazilian community by hiring bilingual (Arabic-Portuguese) staff who will be trained in Palestinian traditions and culture.

With the departure of the Palestinian refugees, only a handful of Iraqi families will be left facing an uncertain future.

Jordan, already hosting 1.2 million Palestinian refugees and nearly 700,000 Iraqis, repeatedly has threatened to shut down the camp and transfer the residents to the border. Officials from the UNHCR, however, were able to persuade Jordanian officials to keep the camp open until a permanent solution was found for the group.

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