"Pavarotti and Friends" for Iraq tonight in Modena, Italy
Renowned Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti performs his annual "Pavarotti and Friends" concert tonight in Modena, Italy, to raise money to assist the return and reintegration of Iraqi refugees. He is focusing specifically on the most vulnerable 20,000 of the more than 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran. This is the tenth annual "Pavarotti and Friends" concert, and the third to benefit UNHCR's refugee assistance projects. Tonight's concert will be attended by High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers and will be broadcast live on RAI Uno beginning at 2040 hours CEDT [Central Europe Summer Time].
Last year's "Pavarotti and Friends" concert raised more than 2 million Euros for projects to aid Angolan refugees returning to their shattered homeland. Pavarotti will share the stage tonight with Bono, Queen, Liza Minnelli, Eric Clapton, Ricky Martin, Lionel Richie, Deep Purple, Zucchero, Andrea Bocelli and Laura Pausini.
The concert will be rebroadcast by national television networks worldwide. More than 8 million viewers watched last year's concert on RAI Uno.
Funds raised by the concert will provide shelter material, clean water for communities, education support and legal assistance. A 200 Euro donation, for example, will provide a family of five with 30 Euros apiece for transportation, a kitchen set, five blankets, a jerry can and hygienic materials.
Returns to Iraq are already getting underway. Last Thursday, more than 600 Iraqis opted to return home from Lebanon in a move that was monitored by UNHCR and saw our legal staff interview the Iraqis to ascertain the voluntariness of the repatriation. Later this week, more than 320 Iraqis from among the some 5,200 refugees in Saudi Arabia's Rafha refugee camp are planning to return to Basra, Al-Qadisiyah, Al-Muthanna in southern Iraq in a convoy via Kuwait.
Our Tehran office is receiving regular calls from Iraqis, including ethnic Kurds and Feili (Shi'ite) Kurds who would like to return home as soon as possible and are seeking the necessary travel documents. The first group of some 200 Iraqi refugees in Iran is expected to go back in early June.
While we are pleased to see Iraqis starting to head homewards, the security situation in Iraq and the availability of clean water and health services remain issues of concern. UNHCR is providing information to prospective returnees about conditions in their home areas to ensure they are acquainted with the situation on the ground inside Iraq before going back.
In Iran, we still have no access to some 180 refugees who returned home from Iraq last week, despite repeated requests to the Tehran government. The Iranian refugees crossed homewards last Thursday at the Chamsari border crossing after having camped on the frontier for more than six weeks seeking to leave Iraq due to insecurity and their desires to end their more than two decade-long exile.
Officials from Iran's refugee agency, BAFIA, have said that the returnees are being taken care of, but we want to monitor their repatriation and reintegration, in line with our mandate to assist and protect refugees and recent returnees. Most of last week's returnees to Iran were from villages in Ahwaz Province. We are planning to visit their home villages in order to seek further information about these returning refugees.
Inside Iraq, staff from UNHCR, IOM and other relief groups in Iraq spent the last two days visiting marsh Arab communities in southern Iraq's Missan Province as part of a joint inter-agency mission. The mission overnighted in Amarah, some 200 km north of Basra.