More Palestinian refugees scheduled to leave for Brazil on 18 October

Thirty-eight Palestinians refugees who have been living in Rweished camp near the Jordanian-Iraqi border are scheduled to fly to Brazil on 18 October for resettlement, putting an end to four years of uncertainty, an official from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on 16 October.

"Finally they will be able to live in a safe and secure environment after four years of uncertainty in harsh living conditions," said Sybella Wilkes, a public information officer at the UNHCR.

The group will be joining other Palestinian refugees who have already settled in São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul. The first batch of Palestinian refugees arrived in Brazil on 21 September.

"The other groups who went in before are enjoying life in their new communities. Brazilian neighbours welcomed them with open arms and accepted them. They are also offering them assistance," said Wilkes.

With the arrival of this batch, Brazil would be receiving nearly 100 Palestinian refugees after several Western countries refused to host them. They arrived in Rweished camp in 2003, when the US-led invasion of Iraq started.

Nearly 1,500 people of various nationalities - including Sudanese, Somalis, Iraqis, Palestinians, and Iranian Kurds - were moved into this camp, 70 km from the Jordanian-Iraqi border, as they tried to escape the violence in Iraq.

Jordan set up the camp with the help of international organisations in anticipation of a flood of refugees from Iraq, but it later closed it after refugees began flooding to the kingdom.

The desolate camp is built near the highway linking Jordan with Iraq, with the nearest town 60km away. Camp residents complained of harsh living conditions throughout the year. In summer temperatures soar to 40 degrees centigrade, accompanied by blinding storms, and it drops to below zero during the dry months in winter. Refugees lived in cloth-made tents that house no fewer than five people under the same roof.

With the departure of this group, as many as nine people, including two Palestinian families and one Iraqi family, will be left behind. Discussions are continuing to have the last group resettled before the camp is permanently shut down, said Wilkes.

New Life

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

Figures show that Brazil is home to nearly 3,400 refugees from 69 nationalities, with most coming from Africa.

People in the group have been undergoing several orientation sessions to familiarise themselves with the type of life they expect to see in Brazil.

Language and orientation classes will continue for up to 12 months after arrival in Brazil, said a statement from UNHCR earlier. The group will receive full medical examinations and children will receive proper vaccinations.

According to the resettlement plan, at least 22 Palestinian families are to be settled in São Paulo State, while 18 are to be settled in Rio Grande do Sul, in the southeast, and in southern regions of Brazil.

All of the Palestinians receive rented accommodation, furniture and material assistance for up to 24 months and will be given opportunities to find jobs.

Children will initially be given the opportunity to attend classes in Portuguese, until the start of the next school year in March 2008, when they will be able to attend school.

An estimated 4.2 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and sectarian unrest, according to the UNHCR.

Neighbours Syria and Jordan have shouldered the brunt of the burden of Iraqis fleeing the country, with over 1.4 million in Syria and between 500,000-750,000 in Jordan, the UNHCR said.

Jordan was the first neighbouring country to open its borders to refugees from Iraq for humanitarian reasons, but the government was adamant they would not be allowed to stay permanently.

mbh/ar/cb