Iran: returns to Iraq
In the last two days, 500 Iraqi refugees have returned from camps in Iran in two separate convoys, bringing to more than 2,600 the number who have gone back from Iran since the return initiative got underway last November.
On Monday, 295 refugees left Jahrom camp, near Shiraz in seven buses and 13 trucks bound for Basra, bringing to 23 the number of return convoys from Iran. A day earlier, 205 refugees left the now-closed Ashrafi Esfahani camp in Khuzestan Province in four buses and 16 trucks. All the returning Iraqis are given mine-awareness training and once back in Basra, UNHCR distributes plastic tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans, lanterns, hygienic items and tents if needed, as well as a small stipend to cover transport costs back to their communities. They are also enrolled in the country's food distribution network.
Ashrafi Esfahani was once the largest refugee camp in Iran, with more than 12,000 refugees. It closed last weekend during a visit by the Chairman of UNHCR's Executive Committee, Swiss Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Jean-Marc Boulgaris. Ambassador Boulgaris was visiting our operations in Iran last week, before heading to Sri Lanka to see returnee projects there. UNHCR expects other Iraqi camps to close in coming weeks, such as Beheshti, which now only shelters 28 refugees.
We are not encouraging any refugees to return to Iraq due to the security problems and fragile humanitarian situation. There were some 202,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran a year ago, most exiled since the first Iran-Iraq war, while others fled government crackdowns in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf conflict. Iranian officials estimate that more than 50,000 may have spontaneously gone back in recent months.