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Iraq: spontaneous returns from Iran, HC's visit

Briefing notes

Iraq: spontaneous returns from Iran, HC's visit

15 July 2003

According to our staff in southern Iraq, small numbers of Iraqi refugees are trickling back each day from Iran. Our field staff in Basra report 50 to 100 Iraqi refugees spontaneously crossing back from Iran daily, over the Shalamsha border crossing point, south-east of Basra.

Iran hosts more than 200,000 Iraqi refugees, with the majority settled in Iranian communities and some 48,000 living in 22 camps in the west of the country.

UNHCR would like to see Iraqi refugees desperate to return home from their camps in Iran channelled back to their country in a coordinated manner, and some small-scale facilitated return movements are planned over the coming weeks. Already we have collected 100 names from among vulnerable refugee families in Ashrafi camp - mainly female-headed families - who would like to repatriate as soon as possible to rejoin their relatives in the Basra area. We are currently discussing a starting date for these movements with the Iranian government and the Coalition Provisional Authority.

We are concerned that spontaneous return movements, like the crossings we are seeing at Shalamsha, mean that Iraqis are going back to uncertain situations. Our message to Iraqi refugees is to be patient. We do plan to start some small-scale return movements over the next weeks, initially from Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp and for some anxious vulnerable groups in Iran. The security situation and the lack of essential services and functioning civil administration in Iraq precludes larger scale returns for the time being.

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers leaves Geneva today on an eight-day, four-country visit to the Iraq region. He arrives in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday and plans meetings with King Abdullah, key ministers and other officials.

Mr. Lubbers will arrive in northern Iraq on Thursday. While in northern Iraq he will meet with Iraqi and UN officials in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, and visit a camp sheltering displaced persons. On Saturday he arrives in Baghdad, where he will meet Iraq's Chief Administrator, Amb. Paul Bremer, as well as Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Romero Lopes da Silva and other officials and UN staff. Early next week, Mr. Lubbers will visit Basra to see refugee and IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] groups, and travels onwards to [the Islamic Republic of] Iran before returning to Geneva on Thursday after meetings in Kuwait.