Lubbers discusses displacement in Northern Iraq
SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq, July 18, (UNHCR) - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers' second day in northern Iraq Friday focused on the issue of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly ethnic Kurds, forcibly displaced from the southern portion of Northern Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule.
In the north-eastern city of Sulaymaniyah - one of the main administrative centres of Iraq's Kurdish-controlled north, the High Commissioner met with senior officials of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - the dominant political force in the area and one of the two main Kurdish political parties in Iraq.
On Thursday, in the city of Erbil, the High Commissioner held similar discussions with leading officials of the other main Kurdish party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), including the deputy head of the local government, Sami Abdul Rahman.
On Friday, as he emerged from the meeting with the head of the local government in Sulaymaniyah, Barham Salih, Lubbers said the major challenge now was to reverse Saddam Hussein's policy, under which hundreds of thousands of Kurds were expelled from their homes and ethnic Arabs were settled in traditionally Kurdish areas, most notably the oil-rich Kirkuk region.
The High Commissioner said a way had to be found to enable the Kurds to return to their original homes in Kirkuk. He described the reversal of Saddam Hussein's policy as a "priority," but he also stressed that fair solutions were needed for the Arab families in Kirkuk who were also adversely affected by the policy.
The High Commissioner offered UNHCR's help in dealing with the problem, but he emphasized that the primary responsibility lies with the new authorities in Iraq, and particularly the Provisional Authority.
Lubbers praised the liberation of Kirkuk last April as "exemplary" but warned that the success could turn to disillusionment and renewed conflict, unless quick action is taken to help both ethnic groups in a fair and equitable way.
Also on Friday, Lubbers travelled to the settlement at Raparin, near Sulaymaniyah, located on the premises of a former printing plant. There, he met with ethnic Kurdish families expelled from Kirkuk 16 years ago. Many of them told him that they wanted to go back but expressed concerns about housing and security.
Earlier in the week, in Jordan's capital, Amman, the High Commissioner met with King Abdullah II, Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher and other senior officials who assured him that Jordan will allow Iraqi refugees to remain in Jordan while conditions remain unsettled inside Iraq. There are believed to be between 200,000 and 300,000 Iraqis living in a refugee-like situation in Jordan, although the number formally recognized as refugees is much lower.
On Saturday, the High Commissioner was scheduled to fly to Baghdad, before travelling on to Basra and later to Iran.