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UNHCR resumes voluntary repatriation programme for Iraqi refugees in Iran

Briefing notes

UNHCR resumes voluntary repatriation programme for Iraqi refugees in Iran

17 September 2004

UNHCR has resumed its voluntary repatriation programme for Iraqi refugees in Iran. A total of 251 Iraqi refugees left Ansar camp in Iran on Tuesday morning and arrived later that day in Basra, in southern Iraq. This was the first such convoy for over a month - all return movements were halted on 12 August at the request of the Iraqi authorities because of security concerns.

Also this week, UNHCR was able to organise its first convoy for non-camp Iraqi refugees in Iran, many of whom have been asking for assistance to repatriate for several months. Nine buses, carrying 276 refugees, travelled from the south-western Iranian city of Ahwaz to Basra on Wednesday. Convoys for urban refugees are now scheduled to depart Ahwaz weekly, provided security conditions in Iraq allow such movements.

UNHCR does not encourage Iraqis abroad to repatriate now, because Iraq is not yet ready to absorb large numbers of returnees. But we do provide assistance to refugees in neighbouring countries who insist on returning despite the difficult conditions in Iraq. Around 14,000 Iraqis have repatriated with UNHCR help from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon since last year - 9,000 of them from Iran.

The refugee agency works closely with the Iraqi authorities to facilitate the reintegration of those newly returned, by running shelter-building programmes, water projects and income-generating initiatives in cooperation with partner agencies.