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UNHCR mobilizes aid for internal returnees in northern Iraq

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UNHCR mobilizes aid for internal returnees in northern Iraq

30 July 2003

30 July 2003

DOHUK, Iraq - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has mobilized assistance for internally displaced Iraqi Kurds who have gone back spontaneously to their original villages in the Dohuk area, under a multi-agency programme to stabilize returnee communities.

UNHCR has dispatched tents, blankets, kitchen sets, stoves and lanterns to 230 people in 32 families at Galikhodeda village, and similar relief aid packages are being arranged for 200 returnees in 28 families at Hinjirok village. Shelter materials will soon be distributed in the two villages, and other UN agencies and NGOs are clearing landmines in peripheral areas and laying out plans to dig wells and bring in electricity.

Almost all of the houses at Galikhodeda and Hinjirok villages in Shekhan district were destroyed during the inter-Kurdish factional fighting in the mid-1990s that uprooted around 180,000 people in the Dohuk governorate. They are among an estimated 800,000 internally displaced people, or IDPs, forced from their homes in decades of conflicts and ethnic cleansing campaigns in northern Iraq.

Last month, UNHCR began the programme to rehabilitate villages in Makhmour district in the Erbil governorate, where spontaneous returns have taken place. After handing out tents and emergency relief to three villages in Makhmour, UNHCR is now providing shelter materials - cement, window and door frames - to these villages so the returnees can build houses.

"We are concentrating our assistance efforts in areas where there are no major problems," said Pierre-François Pirlot, UNHCR's coordinator for northern Iraq. "There are areas where returns could provoke tensions, such as the Kirkuk region. There, we are urging displaced people who are from that area to remain where they are, as outstanding property disputes have not been resolved."

During a visit to northern Iraq last month, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said the international community must find a way forward to facilitate the return of displaced people, saying that failure to do so could spark renewed tensions.

In Dohuk, UNHCR has assessed conditions in 26 of 36 villages devastated during the 1990s conflict. In most of the villages, UNHCR has found that returns could not take place because of property disputes, the absence of basic infrastructure and the presence of unexploded ordnance. Most of the IDPs in the region and elsewhere are living in appalling conditions in mud huts in collective settlements.

In addition to its work for internally displaced Iraqis, UNHCR is also laying the groundwork for the eventual repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees currently outside the country. The first UNHCR-organised convoy of refugees returning to Iraq since the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein arrived in southern Iraq on Wednesday morning from Rafha camp in Saudi Arabia.