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Iraq: repatriation convoys from Iran begin

Briefing notes

Iraq: repatriation convoys from Iran begin

9 December 2003

Despite the insecurity prevailing in parts of Iraq, repatriation convoys from Iran have begun. In the last three weeks, UNHCR has assisted some 280 people to return from Iran in two convoys.

Yesterday, 210 Iraqis left Iran's Ashrafi refugee camp in south-western Khuzestan Province aboard four buses. They were accompanied by 14 trucks bearing personal belongings. After processing and mine awareness training at a transit centre a few kilometres from the frontier, the group crossed the Shalamcheh border at noon and proceeded to Basra. UNHCR local staff in southern Iraq gave the returning refugees assistance packages containing mattresses, blankets, cooking utensils and a stove for each family, as well as tents for those in need of shelter.

It took months of arduous negotiations to arrange the start of these repatriation convoys from Iran. While we're not encouraging repatriation due to insecurity, lack of humanitarian aid and economic conditions unsuitable for large-scale returns, many refugees do want to go back and have long been clamouring to return.

Some 202,000 Iraqis, most of whom fled their homes during the first Iran-Iraq war 20 years ago, were in Iran earlier this year. There have been reports that some refugees unwilling to wait for UN-facilitated convoys have gone back on their own. Future convoys will depart Iran as needed to accommodate requests from any refugees seeking help to return.

Elsewhere in the region, the 12th repatriation convoy from Saudi Arabia's Rafha refugee camp arrived back in Iraq today carrying some 420 returning refugees. The group left Rafha camp, where they spent the last 12 years, yesterday evening aboard eight buses and 11 trucks carrying their personal effects. They transited Kuwait overnight before crossing the border early this morning.

Since the repatriation convoys from Rafha started last July, more than 4,200 Iraqis have returned to southern Iraq. Some 1,100 refugees remain in Rafha camp, including more than 100 Afghans who had lived in southern Iraq before fleeing the country at the time of the 1991 Gulf war.

Over the last 12 years the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided unprecedented levels of assistance to the refugees in Rafha.