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Iraq region: latest update

Briefing notes

Iraq region: latest update

1 April 2003

Regionally, there are no reports of any substantial movements of Iraqi refugees across international borders.

In Iran, UNHCR and Iranian officials have agreed to continue preparations for a possible Iraqi refugee influx into Iran. UNHCR staff met with senior officials in the Iranian foreign ministry over the weekend. We explained that while UNHCR hoped that there would be a swift end to the war in Iraq and that there would be no refugees, it was still too early to predict what would happen in Iraq and the possibility of a refugee outflow remained.

UNHCR has so far disbursed $9 million for our preparations in Iran to meet any refugee emergency from Iraq. We have handed over to the Iranian refugee agency $1 million for the preparation of basic infrastructure - sanitation and water facilities - in four campsites in the provinces of Kermanshah, Khuzestan and Ilam. These camps have an initial capacity to receive 60,000 refugees. Six other sites have been cleared of land mines, levelled and demarcated. They can be put to immediate use if needed. We have brought $8 million worth of relief supplies to our warehouses in the key western Iranian cities of Ahwaz and Kermanshah. The supplies include tents, blankets, mattresses, jerry cans, kitchen sets, soap, sanitary napkins and supplementary foods.

UNHCR staff travel almost daily to check out reports of large concentrations of displaced Iraqis along the border but we have been told by Iranian authorities and relief workers on the Iraqi side of the border that none of these groups has so far attempted to cross the border into Iran. The 1,400-kilometre border between Iran and Iraq was heavily mined during the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq and civilian travel to this area is restricted. However, we do manage to get permission to border areas in Iran to look into reported Iraqi presence.

In the Syrian capital, Damascus, hundreds of Iraqi nationals continue to come to the UNHCR office daily asking for a certificate offering them temporary protection in Syria. Nearly 2,000 such papers have been issued since last Sunday. Those coming to our office are persons who had left Iraq prior to the current conflict but who now decided to have their status formalized. The temporary protection certificate issued under the UNHCR mandate states that the bearers deserve temporary protection and cannot be sent back to Iraq.