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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.

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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

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

Posted on 10 January 2007

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