Volcano’s eruption delays UN plan to resettle Palestinian refugees in France

Palestinians waiting to be resettled in France have spent several years in the Al Waleed camp

23 April 2010 – The volcanic eruption in Iceland has delayed plans to resettle a group of Palestinians in France because the refugees were unable to travel as a result of the aviation crisis sparked by the spread of ash over European skies in the past week, the United Nations refugee agency reported.

Planes were unable to fly over much of Europe late last week and early this week amid fears that volcanic ash spewing from Eyjafjallajokull volcano could damage jet engines. Flights have since resumed after the volcano became less active.

The 43 Palestinian refugees, including 18 children, were scheduled to fly on Tuesday from Baghdad to Paris, via Amman, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said yesterday. They have been living under harsh conditions in Al Waleed camp on Iraq's border with Syria after fleeing persecution and abuse in Iraq.

The desert refugee camp is lashed by sandstorms and infested with scorpions and snakes. It is prone to flooding and the weather alternates between extreme heat and chilly spells. The nearest fully-equipped medical facility in Iraq is more than 400 kilometres away.

The refugees, who will soon be on their way to Europe, are the latest group of Palestinians to benefit from France's programme of resettling refugees who live in perilous situations or who have specific needs that cannot be met in the country where they first sought asylum.

Under France's current resettlement programme, UNHCR submits 100 cases for resettlement each year. Since the scheme was launched in 2008, France has accepted 434 refugees from various nationalities. Under a separate operation, France has resettled 1,200 Iraqis, mainly from religious minorities.

Resettlement is a life-changing experience, according to UNHCR. It is both challenging and rewarding. Refugees are often resettled in a country where the society, language and culture are completely different from their own. Many encounter difficulties in their country of adoption.

Specialized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have recently pointed out a number of problems in the French resettlement programme, ranging from insufficient or unsuitable accommodation to a lack of French-language courses for resettled refugees, according to a press release from UNHCR.

Overall, however, the resettlement programme shows France’s commitment to international solidarity and responsibility-sharing, the agency stressed.

“Resettlement is one of the three durable solutions on offer to refugees, but only a very small proportion of those in need benefit from it,” said Francisco Galindo-Vélez, UNHCR's representative in Paris. “There are very few countries in the world that give refugees the possibility of starting a new life and we are very pleased that France is one of them,” he added.


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