GENEVA – Germany's relocation program for Syrian refugees is getting under way with 107 people gaining temporary new homes, U.N. officials said Tuesday.
The first group to be relocated under a German program for up to 5,000 Syrian refugees includes "women and girls at risk, people with serious medical conditions, survivors of torture or others with special needs," said U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
Unlike the makeshift arrangements for most of the 2 million refugees that have fled Syria into neighboring countries, the program announced by Germany in March gives them the right to work under two-year residence permits that could be extended if Syria's crisis remains unchanged.
In that regard, Germany currently has the world's largest such relocation program for Syrian refugees, "setting an important example" for other nations, Fleming said
The first group of 107 Syrian refugees is due to leave Lebanon on Wednesday and head to Hannover, Germany, where the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, known as the U.N. refugee agency, will help them on arrival. From there the refugees are being transferred to an accommodation center in Friedland, in Lower Saxony, where they are to stay for 14 days.
During that time, they will get oriented to their new culture, including basic language training, how the schools and health works, and help in interacting with local authorities, Fleming said. After that they will leave for temporary homes across Germany, mostly small centers or apartments where they have access to schools, medical facilities and social services.
The program is expected to be full by the end of this year, and Germany also is getting some support from the International Organization for Migration, another Geneva-based intergovernmental group. Austria also has pledged to temporarily relocate 500 Syrians.
Other countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland have pledged to quickly resettle 1,650 Syrians, including 960 this year, who are considered to be "highly vulnerable" and needy.