Iraq: sporadic returns, but security situation forces emphasis on maintenance
UNHCR on Wednesday resumed convoys to transport Iraqis who insist on returning to their country, with the repatriation of 114 refugees from two camps in western Iran. Repatriation convoys were halted a month ago due to fighting and security concerns.
Wednesday's convoy of three buses and nine trucks returned 26 families to Basra Governorate in the south of the country. The 114 refugees, including 59 children, had been living for more than 20 years in Mottahari and Ansar refugee camps in Iran's Khuzestan Province. The returning refugees were escorted into Basra by Coalition Provisional Authority personnel, where they received relief items, including blankets, plastic tarpaulins, lanterns, household supplies, hygienic items and, if necessary, tents, from local UNHCR and partner agency staff. Prior to leaving Iran, they underwent mine awareness training at the Shalamcheh border.
More than 6,000 Iraqis have returned from Iran with assistance from the UN refugee agency since convoys started last November, while some 4,800 have returned from Saudi Arabia.
Next week, UNHCR and Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA) plan to open Voluntary Repatriation Centres in Ahwaz and Kermanshah Provinces where Iraqis seeking to go home despite the unstable security situation can register for transport. Because of the recent tension throughout Iraq, UNHCR is only assisting Iraqis refugees who insist on going back and who originate from Basra, Dhiqar or Muthana governorates in the south.
UNHCR continues to help refugee communities and recent returnees throughout Iraq thanks to the work of national and international relief agencies. But our funding situation is not good right now. So far this year, we have not received any contributions for our $74 million programme in Iraq and we are in need of urgent contributions from donors to maintain our programmes as well as to care for some 2,000 refugees living in rough camps in eastern Jordan.
In southern Iraq, returning refugees and displaced Iraqis are benefitting from UNHCR-funded assistance distributed by our humanitarian partner agencies, including various household items for some 30,000 extremely vulnerable people in Basra and Thi Qar governorates. Water distribution systems are also being upgraded for the benefit of 69,000 people in Basra, Khumesh, Umm al Shuweitch and Sehan, while UNHCR is also financing the reinforcement of dikes in the marsh region of Thi Qar Governorate to prevent the displacement of 41,000 people.
At Al Tash refugee camp west of Baghdad, UNHCR is rehabilitating the camp's water system and ensuring that school teachers, medical staff and local security personnel keep facilities open for the some 5,200 Iranian ethnic Kurdish refugees living there.
In northern Iraq, maintenance is ongoing at Makhmour camp to ensure services like health care, schooling, shelter, water and sanitation for the 9,300 Turkish refugees residing there. UNHCR is providing rental assistance for some of the more than 1,700 Iranian refugees who fled Al Tash camp a year ago and relocated to the north, as well as planning some community development and income generating projects for this community of displaced refugees. Elsewhere in the region, UNHCR and its partners are rehabilitating schools and water sources in 18 villages in Dohuk Governorate while school rehabilitation continues in eight villages while various community development activities are underway in 26 further villages to benefit recent returnees.