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Iran: Several camps for Iraqi refugees to close following returns

Briefing notes

Iran: Several camps for Iraqi refugees to close following returns

14 December 2004

UNHCR is closing several camps for Iraqi refugees in the Islamic Republic of Iran following the departure of more than half of the 202,000 Iraqi refugees in the country. A total of 107,000 refugees have returned to Iraq since the end of Saddam Hussein's rule last year. Many of the refugees had sought asylum in Iran for more than two decades.

Amongst refugees staying in camps, the rate of departure has been extremely high, with over eighty per cent choosing to repatriate. This has led to a sharp fall in the number of Iraqi refugees in Iranian camps to 8,000 from 50,000. An estimated 95,000 Iraqi refugees remain in Iran, which still has the largest registered Iraqi refugee population in the world.

Six out of the 22 camps are now empty and another two are expected to be closed by the end of the year. Many of the remaining 14 camps are already nearly empty. UNHCR is working with the Iranian authorities on a phased programme to close some of these camps and consolidate others. This will help guarantee that services are maintained at an existing level, since it is not possible in the long-term to continue running schools and clinics in camps with very small numbers of refugees.

UNHCR does not encourage Iraqis abroad to repatriate now, but we do provide assistance to refugees in some neighbouring countries who are determined to go back despite the difficult conditions inside Iraq. Most of the refugees returning home are doing so by their own means, with some 19,000 Iraqis repatriating with UNHCR help since last year - more than two-thirds of them from Iran, with the rest from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan

We are working closely with the Iraqi authorities and our implementing partners on the ground to help the returning refugees and their communities by running shelter-building programmes, water projects and income-generating initiatives.