By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
December 13, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that it is planning to resettle over 3,800 refugees in Ethiopia to a third country.
This follows record submissions for resettlement at the Tongo, Barahle and Bokolmanyo refugee camps, where resettlement has not not been previously conducted.
"Notable this year was the first emergency resettlement to Sweden of a child-at-risk from Dollo Ado, as well as submissions of several highly vulnerable women and girls out of Barahle and Sherkole camps, including victims of female genital mutilation and other forms of sexual and gender based violence”, said Julia Zajkowski, the resettlement officer at UNHCR’s Ethiopia office.
The plan to resettle 3,800 refugees exceeds the UN refugee agency’s 2013 resettlement target by over 20%.
However the process takes time and not all the refugees submitted to the refugee agency will necessarily be resettled to a third country within the next year, UNHCR’s Ethiopia representative, Kisut Gebreegzia, told Sudan Tribune.
"There is no guarantee that all the 3,800 will be accepted or will all those accepted will be able to depart this year," he said.
The third-country resettlement operation for refugees in Ethiopia particularly for Eritreans was begun by the Ethiopian government in 2006 in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR.
Since the program began, thousands of refugees have been resettled in western countries such as to Norway, Canada, and Switzerland Australia and to the United States where they have begun new lives.
Zajkowski said UNHCR will continue to conduct the third country resettlement operation for the most vulnerable refugees, including single women and mothers, children at risk and to victims of torture.
Due to conflicts and political instability thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries cross into Ethiopia every month.
The influx is highest from Eritrea, where people are fleeing from forced conscription and open-ended military service, as well as in protest against political repression.
UNHCR says voluntary repatriation is often not an option due to safety concerns. Therefore resettlement to a third country is often the only appropriate solution, particularly for Eritrean refugees, as it allows them to safely start a new life.
According to UNHCR report, Ethiopia received over 5,000 new refugees over the last two months, bringing the total number of refugees in the Horn of Africa nation to over 427,000.
The new arrivals came from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.
Currently there are 240,000 Somalis, 81,000 Eritreans and 70,000 South Sudanese in Ethiopia. The remaining over 36,000 are from Kenya, Sudan and other east African countries.