The U.N. refugee agency reports that 33 unaccompanied children, mostly from East Africa, have left Tunisia's Shousha refugee camp for resettlement in Norway. The children are among 90 who arrived unaccompanied from Libya during the conflict in 2011.
UNHCR says some of the children were already without their parents when they arrived in Libya. Others lost their parents or became separated from them at a later stage. Most of the children are from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, or Eritrea.
The agency says the 33 unaccompanied children who left Tunisia for Norway on Sunday is the largest group, so far, to be resettled. It notes six other children previously have been resettled in several Scandinavian countries.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said prospects for finding countries of resettlement for 51 other unaccompanied children in Tunisia’s Shousha refugee camp are good.
“However, the issue is not so much whether they are going to be resettled, but the speed of it. It is now some time that people have been there. Countries have been quite generous, I think, in offering resettlement places, but, we need to see things speeded up so we can get both the children, who are a priority group because these are highly vulnerable, but, also other refugees resettled,” Edwards explained.
Shousha is home to 3,400 refugees. It is not a pleasant place. The UNHCR describes life in the camp as difficult, with windswept conditions and bitter cold. The agency says it considers resettlement to be the only viable option for the majority of recognized refugees who fled Libya to Tunisia and Egypt.
Human rights organizations tend to believe children who have lost their parents are better off being cared for by other family members than being put up for foreign adoption or resettled abroad. UNHCR spokesman Edwards acknowledged the merits of this argument, but said it is not always possible to keep a child within his or her community.
“Where children are separated from their parents, where we do not know where their parents are or what happens to them, we obviously have to look at, are there other family members, are there other people they can be with? In these particular cases, we believe that resettlement is the best option. We have looked into all other possibilities. So, yes, resettlement is what we are recommending,” said Edwards.
Edwards said when the children arrive in their countries of resettlement, staff from the International Organization for Migration help the children orient themselves to their new surroundings. He said IOM also arranges to transport the children to their new homes.