Sweden has accepted 111 Iranian-Kurdish asylum seekers who have been languishing for the past three years at al-Rweished refugee camp, 60km from the Jordan-Iraq border, officials from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.
According to Yara Sharif, spokeswoman for UNHCR in Amman, talks are also ongoing with the government of Ireland to accept another 200 refugees. Sharif said that UNHCR officials were racing against the clock to meet a deadline to resettle all refugees by the end of September, when Jordan is scheduled to close the al-Rweished camp permanently. “We’ve been talking to a number of host countries to resettle all refugees, but we can’t disclose further information until everything is agreed upon,” said Sharif.
At the outset of the war, al-Rweished – set up in 2003 to accommodate the expected influx of refugees – became home to more than 1,200 Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Sudanese, Moroccans and Iranian Kurds. Over the past three years, that number has dwindled to about 500, with many being resettled in New Zealand, Ireland, the US, Australia, Denmark, Finland and Norway. Jordan has also allowed a number of Palestinians with Jordanian spouses to settle in the kingdom.
Hussein Yassi, one of the 111 refugees to be accepted by Sweden for resettlement, said he was “ecstatic, but nervous” about his prospects. Sweden also took in 360 Iranian-Kurdish refugees from the camp last year.
Yassi said his first move in Sweden would be to seek treatment for his four-year-old daughter who suffers from a rare disease that requires regular blood transfusions. “Finally, I’ll be able to give my daughter proper medical treatment,” he said.
From his tent in Jordan's desolate petrified desert, Yassi and his daughter Kajal often travel 300km to the nearest town for transfusions. “Kajal needed a blood transfusion every two months, then every 45 days, and now every 25 days,” he said. “I didn’t know how long she could take it.”
Residents of the camp, which is run by the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation, say they must often endure extreme weather conditions – such as fierce sandstorms and icy winter nights – in the camp’s open environment.
Jordan was among the first countries to open its borders to Iraqi refugees fleeing the war. The government, however, having to cope with an existing 600,000 Iraqis who arrived in the 1990s, said refugees would not be allowed permanent residence.
Currently, an agreement between Amman and UNHCR allows the latter to “provide accommodation to those Iraqi and other nationals in need of temporary protection, pending longer-term and durable solutions – in particular, the safe return to their country of origin or habitual residence or resettlement in third countries”.