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Iran: second repatriation convoy of Afghan survivors departs

Briefing notes

Iran: second repatriation convoy of Afghan survivors departs

20 January 2004

A second UNHCR convoy of Afghan survivors of the earthquake in Bam set off this morning for Afghanistan. The convoy of 9 buses and 5 trucks is currently carrying 296 refugees and five other people who came from Afghanistan after the earthquake to look for their relatives. On the way, it is scheduled to pick up another five refugees - who left Bam immediately after the earthquake - making a total of 301 refugees and five rescuers who should cross back into Afghanistan tomorrow via Dogharun. Once inside Afghanistan, most of the returnees - who include 132 children - will split up and head for four different parts of the country: Herat in the west, Kabul and Parwan province in central Afghanistan and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.

Many of those on board lost part of their family in the earthquake, including a family of six children aged from 4 to 10 years - both of whose parents were killed, and who are returning with their grandmother.

The returnees were all given blankets and food before leaving Bam, and will receive a hot meal during their stopover in Kerman tonight. Twenty-five of them will receive tents at the border tomorrow. The rest have already received tents as part of the emergency relief efforts going on in Bam.

It is the beginning of a long and gruelling journey: most of the 365 earthquake survivors who started their trip back to Afghanistan at the beginning of last week finally reached Kabul on Saturday and Sunday - and even this was not the end of the journey for many of them.

Another 160 Afghan refugees in Bam have already registered to return on the next convoy. In all, there were around 3,300 registered Afghan refugees living in Bam at the time of the earthquake, with an unknown number of others who were there unofficially. According to the Iranian government, around 1,500 Afghans were killed, but UNHCR has no way to confirm that figure.

Also in Iran, a convoy of 326 Iraqi refugees returned home yesterday to Basra from Ahwaz in south-western Iran, taking the total number of UNHCR-assisted returns on this route so far to 1,430. Thousands more have returned by their own means. In all, there are believed to be around 130,000 Iraq refugees still living in Iran.