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Small groups of Iraqis go home from Iran, Saudi Arabia

News Stories, 9 December 2003

© UNHCR/M-H.Verney
Young Iraqi refugees from Ashrafi camp at the Iran-Iraq border before crossing into southern Iraq.

ASHRAFI CAMP, Iran, December 9 (UNHCR) Small groups of Iraqi refugees continue going back to southern Iraq with UNHCR assistance, with convoys returning from Iran and Saudi Arabia this week.

On Monday, 210 people left Ashrafi camp in Iran's Khuzestan province in four buses and 14 trucks filled with their belongings. They were processed and given landmine-awareness training at a transit centre near the Shalamcheh border before crossing back into Iraq. Upon reaching Basra in the south, they received repatriation packages containing mattresses, blankets, cooking utensils, and tents, where necessary.

This was the second organised convoy to return from Iran after months of arduous negotiations between UNHCR and the authorities in Iran and Iraq.

The UN refugee agency has repeatedly stressed that it does not promote returns to Iraq because of insecurity in parts of the country, a lack of humanitarian access and aid, and poor economic conditions that cannot support mass returns.

However, many Iraqi refugees have gone back spontaneously without UNHCR assistance, crossing the heavily-mined Iran-Iraq border on their own. The refugee agency decided to facilitate returns partly to minimise such risks.

"Mine-awareness training is extremely important, especially for the children," said Maryam Ghahremani of ANSAR, the Iranian foundation that conducts the training at the transit centre. "If they don't know, they see a mine, and they think it is a toy. We only have 45 minutes with them, but that can make all the difference."

At the beginning of this year, Iran hosted some 202,000 Iraqi refugees, most of whom had fled their homes during the first Iran-Iraq war 20 years ago. The fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April this year opened the door for many to go home.

"I am so happy to see Iraq again. I am going to see my family after 13 years," said Madjedeh Jaber Abdollah before leaving Ashrafi camp for Basra. "And my children will grow up in their homeland that is the most important thing of all, they'll be educated in their own country."

UNHCR will arrange further return convoys from Iran upon the request of refugees seeking help to return.

Meanwhile, a separate group of 420 Iraqi refugees returned to southern Iraq from Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp on Tuesday. Since the start of repatriation convoys from Rafha in July, more than 4,200 Iraqi refugees have gone back to southern Iraq. Only some 1,100 refugees remain in the camp, which was opened in 1991 and initially sheltered 33,000 Iraqis.





UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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