Iraqi refugees return amid Italian rhapsody
GENEVA, May 27 (UNHCR) - As the momentum builds for returns to post-war Iraq, a charity concert tonight is hitting all the right notes by raising funds to support the repatriation and reintegration of Iraqi refugees in Iran.
On Tuesday evening, renowned Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti will give his 10th "Pavarotti and Friends" concert in Modena, Italy. This year's event, the third consecutive one in benefit of the UN refugee agency, will raise funds to help the most vulnerable 20,000 of the over 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers will attend the concert, which will be broadcast live on RAI Uno and feature artists like Bono, Ricky Martin, Liza Minnelli and Andrea Bocelli.
Funds raised will provide shelter material, clean water, education support and legal assistance for Iraqi refugees. A 200-euro donation, for example, will provide a family of five with transport allowance, five blankets, a kitchen set, a jerry can and hygiene materials.
With the end of the war in Iraq, UNHCR has unveiled a Repatriation and Reintegration Plan designed for 500,000 Iraqi refugees worldwide, including 165,000 from Iran, which hosts more than half of the world's recognised Iraqi refugees. The agency expects the operation to last into next year and to cost $118 million initially.
Mindful of insecurity in parts of the country, UNHCR has stressed that returns to Iraq must be voluntary. The agency is also providing prospective returnees with information on their home areas so that they know what to expect before going back.
With or without UNHCR assistance, Iraqi refugees have already started streaming home. More than 600 Iraqis returned from Lebanon last Thursday. UNHCR was there to monitor the movement and to interview the returnees to make sure that they were repatriating voluntarily.
Later this week, more than 320 Iraqis in Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp are planning to return to southern Iraq's Basra, Al-Qadisiyah and Al-Muthanna in a convoy via Kuwait.
From the Islamic Republic of Iran, a first group of 200 Iraqi refugees is expected to repatriate in early June. UNHCR's office in Tehran has been receiving regular calls from Iraqis seeking travel documents to go home as soon as possible.
Also in Iran, UNHCR has been trying to gain access to some 180 Iranian refugees who returned home from Iraq last Thursday after camping on the border for more than six weeks. Officials from Iran's refugee agency (BAFIA) said that the returnees are being taken care of, but UNHCR is planning to travel to their home villages, mostly in Ahwaz province, to monitor their reintegration as part of the agency's mandate to protect and assist refugees and recent returnees.