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UN-backed operation resettles Eritreans in United States

UN-backed operation resettles Eritreans in United States

Kunama refugees to start new life in the United States
Some 700 ethnic Kunama refugees from Eritrea are getting a new start in the United States thanks to a United Nations-backed operation that is flying them there after years of exile in northern Ethiopia.

The Eritreans were displaced by the 1998-2000 border war between their native country and Ethiopia. The operation being assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is due to last until September.

The refugees left Shimelba camp earlier this week and flew out from the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday evening after a pre-departure briefing by staff of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is handling the logistics of the resettlement operation, UNHCR said.

The Kunamas, who will be flown to several US cities, including Atlanta, Orlando, Seattle and Las Vegas, are members of a largely rural ethnic group of about 100,000 people who reside on the disputed Ethiopia-Eritrea border. They crossed into Ethiopia complaining of alleged persecution and harassment by the Eritrean government.

Nagasi Gorado Becho was headed to Atlanta with his family of five, including a seven-year-old daughter born in Shimelba camp. “I opted to go further afield not because I do not like my country, but because I cannot return at this point,” said the 45-year-old before boarding the first flight.

His wife, Tokko Masso Anduku, was looking forward to their new life across the Atlantic. “Friends who were resettled some time back are very much appreciative of life in America and I look forward to having better working and learning opportunities there.”

UNHCR has determined that the 700 Kunamas cannot return home in safety and dignity and resettlement is the most suitable solution. The people who left on Wednesday and those to follow will all take part in extensive orientation programmes to help them adapt to a new and very different culture.

Today, almost 1,300 Kunama refugees are in Ethiopia, but not all of them want to be resettled in the United States.

Several hundred withdrew their applications for resettlement, apparently due to their strong sense of kinship and a desire to remain close to their ancestral lands, according to UNHCR, which said they hope that one day a lasting political solution will be found and they will be able to return home.