AMMAN, Jordan, November 5 – The isolated Ruweished camp was empty on Monday after the last nine Palestinian refugees left the desert facility in eastern Jordan en route to a new life in Brazil. The camp, which once provided shelter for some 1,000 refugees, is not expected to reopen.
Located about 70 kilometres from the border with Iraq, it was set up in 2003 and housed Somalis and Iranian Kurds as well as Palestinians and Iraqis fleeing violence in Iraq. Most were resettled in third countries, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States.
The last residents, a total of 108 Palestinians, were accepted by Brazil and left Ruweished in three groups from late September. The nine members of a single family leaving Ruweished on Monday were the very last to leave the camp.
“I feel that today is a dream come true,” said Subieha, who fled Baghdad last year. “First I had a chance to be reunited with my mother and then we are going to a place where I believe we will be safe, far from the sounds of bombs and rockets, where we will all sleep better at night, I hope,” added the mother of four, who was moved to Ruweished from a camp just inside Iraq’s border with Syria.
Subieha, her 76-year-old mother, Rashida, and their seven relatives spent their last night in Ruweished crowded into a spartan room with their belongings packed in three bags stowed on top of each other in a corner. Outside, the wind shook a solitary tent as stray cats roamed through the empty camp.
The family said they were happy, but also exhausted. “We know that many people were involved in making this happen, and we thank them for this opportunity and for their perseverance and their patience,” said Rashida, who kept everyone’s spirits up with her family jokes.
“When I was a young boy in Baghdad we used to always cheer for the Brazilian football team and now they will be our national team,” her grandson, Hussam, noted before the family’s early morning departure from Ruweished for Amman, where they caught a plane for São Paulo later in the day.
The Palestinians will receive rented accommodation, furniture and material aid for up to two years A network of volunteers and local communities has been set up to provide moral support during the integration of the Palestinians, who have been settled in the states of São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul.
All of the Palestinian 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 fully participate in school.
UNHCR has welcomed Brazil’s resettlement of the Palestinians and Jordan’s help in hosting the group and permitting their departure. “We hope that this achievement of a lasting solution for a group that had been stranded without hope for so long can be replicated with similar groups through similar partnerships,” said Imran Riza, UNHCR’s representative in Jordan.
The Palestinians are the first refugees from outside Latin America to benefit from the solidarity resettlement programmes that were proposed as one of the durable solutions for refugees in the 2004 Mexico Plan of Action, which was adopted by 20 Latin American countries.
The Palestinians led a hard life at Ruweished, enduring scorpions, sandstorms and sleepless nights during the hot summer. Day after day, they became more desperate and some even returned to Iraq.
“Sometimes, I thought I would never leave this place,” Rashida said as she folded a blanket for the flight to Brazil. “The day has come and now we all have a second chance in this life, in a place where we will try to forget the past.”
The conflict in Iraq has uprooted more than 4 million people, including thousands of Palestinians. More than 1,750 Palestinians from Iraq remain stranded along the Iraq-Syria border in deplorable conditions unable to cross to safety.
Another estimated 13,000 Palestinians continue to be targeted, harassed, threatened and killed in Baghdad. “When we were in Baghdad, we went to work in the morning and we didn’t know if we were ever going to return,” said Hussam, a trained electrician.
By Rana Sweis
in Amman, Jordan