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Journey – Travel Documents: Lifeline for Refugees

01-12-2013

“This travel document ignites a hope to see my family share smiles all over again”, says Lal Zuali, a 37 year–old Burmese refugee in New Delhi while pointing to the travel document that she received from the ICRC to join her husband in a re-settlement country. Zuali’s moist eyes light up as she looks at the document and then the faces of her four teenage daughters. As they walk away from the ICRC office into a warm New Delhi afternoon, the precious documents are protected inside a bag well-guarded in the hands of Zuali, symbolising the hope and dreams that she has been safeguarding and nurturing for better days.

An ICRC staff member issuing travel documents to a refugee family.  

An ICRC staff member issuing travel documents to a refugee family.
© ICRC

The story of Zuali is just one of many refugees and displaced or stateless persons who do not have appropriate identity papers and therefore cannot return to their country of origin or residence, or go to a country willing to receive them. The ICRC travel document brings them closer to their hopes to start a new, though difficult journey through the process of resettling temporarily or definitively in a third country. Conceived in 1945, ICRC travel documents have been welcomed by many states that have been requested at various times to stamp exit, transit or entry visas on it.

Since 1945, over 500,000 refugees, displaced or stateless persons carrying ICRC travel documents have been able to reach the country of their choice thanks to the understanding of the government authorities concerned. Interestingly, ICRC India has been the second highest provider (Egypt being the first one) of these travel documents in the last few years. Since 1994, the ICRC New Delhi office has issued about 11,000 travel documents thereby assisting in meeting the hopes of these people.

Though the main destinations are traditional resettlement countries such as USA, Canada and Australia, those seeking these documents are mostly from countries such as Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria etc. Issued free of charge, mostly on submission of an official acceptance letter from the country of resettlement and on the basis of a refugee certificate issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the ICRC travel document is limited to the period sufficient for preparing for the journey and for the single journey itself.

For most of the applicants, these travel documents mean much more than a piece of paper. Narrating his experiences, Pau Tawng (70), another Burmese refugee says, “Being a refugee is very difficult and life is a constant struggle. And therefore receiving the travel papers which is not easy either, comes with chance of starting a new life all together.” Tawng who also suffers from partial vision impairment, has been living in New Delhi along with his wife and two children and the travel documents that he receives from ICRC will now help resettle him and his family in Australia. Talking about new promises and avenues that await his family, Tawng says, “This travel paper, means everything to me. My new days will have my kids getting educated and even I want to study, grow and improve my life.”

Jean-Paul Corboz, Protection Coordinator, ICRC New Delhi says, “The New Delhi office of ICRC receives a great number of applications for travel document from refugees of varied background ranging from Afghanistan to Myanmar and all of them have their own stories of pain, hope and bliss to share. ICRC’s delivery of travel documents is very well appreciated by them.”

Echoing similar emotions, Zuali says, “I shall forever remain thankful to the Government of India, UNHCR and ICRC for facilitating this journey of my family. I am looking forward to meet my husband and start life afresh”.