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Lubbers urges Iraq's neighbours to keep borders open

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Lubbers urges Iraq's neighbours to keep borders open

20 March 2003

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today urgently appealed to all governments neighbouring Iraq to keep their borders open to those in need of temporary protection and assistance.

Lubbers also called for unrestricted access to all border areas by UNHCR emergency staff so they can monitor arrivals from Iraq and ensure that the rights of refugees are respected. Access is also needed to enable UNHCR staff to assist host nations in coping with the crisis.

"Despite all of the UN's efforts to find a peaceful solution, we are now faced with the sad reality of war in Iraq and more suffering for the Iraqi people," Lubbers said. "We must do everything we can to alleviate that suffering, including keeping borders open so that those fearing for their lives can reach safety in neighbouring states.

"UNHCR is doing all it can to assist these neighbouring governments in meeting their primary responsibility to provide refugees with temporary protection and material assistance. We have people and resources in the region and more are arriving every day. But to save lives, we must have open borders and access to all of those seeking temporary asylum."

Preparing for the possibility of conflict, UNHCR has worked for months with other international partners from within and outside the UN system.

UNHCR currently has more than 200 staff in the region and has so far pre-positioned emergency supplies for some 300,000 people in regional stockpiles including in Iskenderun, Turkey, Kermanshah, Iran, and Aqaba, Jordan. Seven emergency response teams - each with about 15 or 20 members - are also ready for deployment within 72 hours. These teams are composed of specialists in emergency work and cover a wide range of protection, assistance and technical needs.

UNHCR's contingency planning for a conflict in Iraq has been based on a preparedness figure of 600,000 refugees. These initial contingency preparations require $60 million to cover the cost of relief during one month. As of today, the agency had received $21 million, but had spent more than $28 million, including funds borrowed from emergency reserves.

"While we expect neighbouring states to live up to their responsibilities to protect refugees," Lubbers said, "we also expect the international community to do its part by supporting humanitarian efforts throughout the region."