"Pavarotti and Friends" celebrate 10th anniversary, raising over 2 million euros for Iraqi refugees

The charity concert turned 10 this year with a star-studded reunion between Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and his long-time friends. By the end of the evening, they had raised more than 2 million euros to support the repatriation and reintegration of 20,000 Iraqi refugees currently in Iran. The maestro joined Bono, Queen, Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Ricky Martin, Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie, Laura Pausini, Zucchero and Mana on May 27 in Modena, Italy, to support UNHCR's programmes for Iraqi refugees in Iran.

Maestro Luciano Pavarotti reunited with long-time friends at his 10th charity concert in Modena, Italy.   © D.Venturelli

MODENA, Italy, May 28 (UNHCR) - There's no place like home, and nobody knows it better than Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who has returned once again to his hometown of Modena for a charity concert that has raised more than 2 million euros to help Iraqi refugees in Iran go home.

On Tuesday, "Pavarotti and Friends" held their 10th fund-raising extravaganza in Modena, Italy, playing to an enthusiastic crowd and millions of television viewers on RAI Uno channel. Maestro Pavarotti, the UN Secretary-General's Messenger of Peace, performed alongside artists like Bono, Queen, Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Ricky Martin, Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie, Laura Pausini, Zucchero and Mana.

The star-studded event raised more than 2 million euros through ticket sales and private donations during the evening. The fundraising campaign, known as "SOS Iraq", will continue until June 15.

During the concert, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers thanked Maestro Pavarotti and Italian private donors for their continuing support for refugees. Last year's concert raised close to 3 million euros for Angolan refugees in Zambia and internally displaced Angolans. The funds were used to build new schools, grant scholarships for secondary education, upgrade medical facilities and improve the supply of potable water in camps.

"This year's concert is aimed at another important cause - to support the repatriation and reintegration of Iraqi refugees who have been in exile for decades," said Lubbers. "These people, who were the first victims of Saddam Hussein" regime, today have the chance to go back home and rebuild their lives. But since they lost everything - house, land and all belongings - they will need UNHCR assistance and also your help. I am counting on you."

The four-hour concert started with Queen's explosive rock anthem, "We Will Rock You", setting an electric ambience for the rest of the extravaganza that featured a reunion of guest artists from the past nine concerts.

American performer Liza Minnelli, who could not show up because of a broken knee, sang from a hospital in Bologna. "I wouldn't miss this show for anything, even if I have to do it from the hospital," she said in a live video broadcast. "It's a wonderful effort and I'm glad to be part of it in any way I can."

Lending their support from among the audience were Anna Cataldi, UN Messenger of Peace; and Roberta Armani, representing her uncle, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Giorgio Armani.

After the event, Maestro Pavarotti said, "I am very happy I helped UNHCR to raise funds for Iraqi refugees."

The concert raised more than 2 million euros to help vulnerable Iraqi refugees in Iran to repatriate and reintegrate.  © D.Venturelli

Proceeds from this year's concert will go to the repatriation and reintegration of 20,000 most vulnerable Iraqi refugees currently in the Islamic Republic of Iran, including widows, the disabled and the elderly. Two hundred euros can provide a refugee family of five with a repatriation package consisting of $30 per person for transportation and other integration assistance, plus a kitchen set, five blankets, one jerry can and hygiene materials. The funds raised will also be used for shelter materials, water supplies, education and legal assistance in the areas of return.

Iran hosts more than half of the 400,000 recognised Iraqi refugees worldwide. Most of them arrived over the last three decades and consist of Iraqi Kurds who fled northern Iraq in the mid-1970s, Feili Kurds who were expelled during the 1980s' Iran-Iraq war, and Iraqis from the north and south who fled the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War.

Some 48,000 of them live in 22 refugee camps in western Iran, while the rest are settled in urban areas.

With the end of the war in Iraq, the UN refugee agency has unveiled a Repatriation and Reintegration Plan intended to help some 500,000 Iraqi refugees worldwide, including 165,000 from Iran, to return to their homeland.

Iraqis have already started to return home, with the first group of more than 600 leaving Lebanon last Thursday after being screened by UNHCR staff. Some 320 Iraqis from among the over 5,200 refugees in Saudi Arabia's Rafha refugee camp are expected to go back to southern Iraq later this week in a convoy via Kuwait. Two hundred Iraqi refugees in Iran have already asked to go home in a convoy planned for early June.

This year's "Pavarotti and Friends" concert, which will help support the return movement, is the third consecutive one in support of UNHCR. In addition to last year's initiative for displaced Angolans, the concert in 2001 also raised $2.5 million on behalf of refugees in the Afghan emergency.