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281 Somali Refugees From Eritrea Relocated To U.S., Canada, Australia

Mohamed, with his wife and children. [UNHCR/Monica Modici]


By Monica Modici in Asmara, Eritrea

ASMARA, Eritrea, May 2 (UNHCR) – A group of 37 Somali refugees arrived in Slovakia from Eritrea on April 14 on their way for eventual resettlement in the United States, with the help of UNHCR, the Office of Refugee Affairs (ORA) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

The group takes the total of Somali refugees relocated this year to 281. They include 132 to Australia, 58 to Slovakia and 54 to Canada.

Among them were 52-year-old Shukri Abdi Quasim, his wife and four children, who fled to Eritrea 19 years ago from the town of Luuq, in the Somali province of Gedo, to escape ethnic and clan warfare. They had been living in refugee camps since their arrival.

Shukri and his family were among the first Somalis to arrive in Eritrea the 1990s, most of them from southern Somalia. The family belongs to the Marehan sub-clan of the Darod clan.

They spent the first three years in a refugee camp in the southern port of Assab and moved to Umkulu Refugee Camp on the outskirts of the coastal city of Massawa in 2000. They spent the next 16 years in Umkulu waiting for possible asylum.

"Life wasn't easy as a refugee," Shukri said. "We were receiving the rations and all services from UNHCR and ORA, but we still went through difficult times."

Despite this, Shukri said he became a camp leader in Umkulu and worked as a casual labourer in Massawa.

Finding permanent solutions for the Somalis in Eritrea has been a priority for UNHCR, as has been improving conditions and promoting self-reliance in Umkulu Camp. Small-scale livelihood schemes have been implemented over the years to help sustain the refugees.

Basic services provided are food, primary health care, education, water and sanitation. Livelihood projects have ranged from animal husbandry to small businesses, computer skills training and other small ventures.

Shukri was first interviewed as a potential resettlement candidate in 2008. At the time, more than 3,400 refugees were assessed. They had been in the camp for more than 20 years on average.Shukri and his family were among the lucky few chosen for inclusion in the latest group for resettlement.

All the families being resettled from Eritrea undergo cultural orientation classes in the camp before arriving in Asmara for departure. There they complete medical screening and emigration procedures.

After receiving international travel documents provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Shukri and his family entered Slovakia with six-month visas issued by the Slovak embassy in Nairobi. They are awaiting a final interview with a U.S. consular official and further medical checks, before their destination in the United States is determined.

Although their final destination was still uncertain, Shukri remained optimistic. "I am not afraid," he said. "I know that everything will be just fine."

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