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Resettlement of unaccompanied children from Tunisia to Norway

News article  17 January 2012

Eritrean refugees Belaynesh and her twins in their tent in Tunisia's Choucha camp before they left for Belgium.
© UNHCR / C.Laleve
Eritrean refugees Belaynesh and her twins in their tent in Tunisia's Shousha camp before they left for Belgium.

On Sunday, 33 unaccompanied children departed from Tunisia’s Shousha refugee camp to Norway as part of their resettlement process.

The children 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.

Shousha is home to 3,400 refugees. Unaccompanied children among them 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.

Life at Shousha 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 Shousha camp, works with the children and their communities to establish the best interests of each child, advocates for resettlement and submits cases to resettlement countries. IOM provides child-friendly orientation and arranges transportation to new homes.

UNHCR considers resettlement to be the only viable option for the majority of recognized refugees who fled Libya to Tunisia and Egypt. 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 2500 applicants in Shousha 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 Shousha.

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

Resettlement referrals for both Shousha 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 Shousha camp and Saloum.

UNHCR is calling on resettlement countries to expedite decisions on resettlement 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.

In response to the mass outflows of third-country nationals into Libya’s neighboring countries, UNHCR and IOM launched a joint humanitarian evacuation scheme for the repatriation of some 210,000 third-country nationals during the course of 2011.

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Tunisia’s tented transit Camp

Tunisia’s tented transit Camp

A new camp full of UNHCR tents, has sprung up close to Tunisia’s border with Libya to provide shelter to thousands of migrant workers desperate to get hope. The UNHCR-run facility is already full, with 15,000 people from around Africa and Asia who have fled from Libya.

Most of the new arrivals are penniless and have no hope of making it home on their own. Many of the sub-Saharan Africans arriving at the camp say they fled because of threats and abuse, with some being attacked and robbed in their homes as well as at the checkpoints that have sprung up along many roads in Libya. Non-African arrivals also report having their belongings taken at the checkpoints, but say they have not been the victims of racism and threats.

With people continuing to arrive daily, UNHCR and other agencies are bracing themselves for what could be a large-scale humanitarian disaster if the fighting worsens and if large numbers of Libyans try to flee their country.

2011 Crisis in Libya

2011 Crisis in Libya

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