Iraq: Third return convoy from Saudi Arabia due Sunday

Briefing Notes, 29 August 2003

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Peter Kessler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 August 2003, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A third convoy of returning refugees from Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp is slated to arrive Sunday in southern Iraq after having to wait for nearly two weeks at a temporary camp in eastern Saudi Arabia. No date has yet been set for further convoys from Rafha, which still shelters more than 4,400 Iraqi refugees, the last of more than 33,000 who fled into Saudi Arabia in the final days of the 1991 Gulf war.

The six buses and six trucks carrying 296 returning refugees and their belongings will depart the Ar Raq'i pilgrim centre, 400 km east of Rafha, early Sunday morning and cross Kuwait before proceeding to the southern Iraqi port town of Umm Qasr for arrival formalities. The Iraqis will board local vehicles at the port and proceed onwards, with 104 returnees going to Najaf, 86 to Qadisyah, 49 to Karbala, 32 to Babil, 14 to Baghdad, while Wasit and Diyala will see the return of nine and two persons, respectively.

The returning refugees left Rafha camp on 19 August, but were delayed at Ar Raq'i following the tragic bomb attack in Baghad. The Saudi government has kindly provided food and looked after the refugees' needs during their stay at Ar Raq'i. The [Saudi] Kingdom has provided unprecedented levels of support to Rafha's refugees since they fled their homeland 12 years ago.

We currently have 26 international staff in Iraq, half the number prior to the Baghdad terror attack. Half of them are in the north and the remainder are in Baghdad and Basra.

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