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Refugees at Iraq-Jordan border receive urgent aid

Refugees at Iraq-Jordan border receive urgent aid

A group of 102 Iranian Kurd refugees from Iraq's Al Tash camp who have been stranded at the Iraq-Jordan border for weeks today received food and relief supplies from the UN refugee agency through the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation.
11 February 2005
Some Iranian Kurd refugees made it into Jordan's Ruweished camp. Others, like the recent arrivals at the Iraq-Jordan border, remain stranded at the frontier.

GENEVA, Feb 11 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency, through a local partner, has delivered food and relief supplies to 102 desperate Iranian Kurd refugees - among them pregnant women, children and sick people - who have been living in harsh desert conditions at the Iraq-Jordan border for the last few weeks.

On Friday, the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation delivered UNHCR-provided food, plastic sheeting, mattresses, blankets and jerry cans to the refugees who had arrived at the border in three batches over the past four weeks after leaving Al Tash camp west of Baghdad. They are now stranded on the Iraqi side of the border, close to the no man's land where another group of 660 refugees - also mostly Iranian Kurds from Al Tash camp - have been living for the last one-and-a-half years.

UNHCR is trying to confirm reports of more arrivals at the border, possibly expanding the group to 115 refugees.

"The recent arrivals were believed to be surviving on the charity of passers-by - a situation that was clearly not tenable for much longer," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday. "Weather conditions at the border have been very harsh in recent days, with freezing temperatures and strong winds, and the refugees were reported to be growing increasingly desperate."

There are many vulnerable people in the group, including at least five pregnant women, a large number of children, as well as disabled and sick people. No medical team has been able to visit them so far.

"UNHCR has been exploring with the Iraqi authorities the possibility of supplying them from the Iraqi side, but the security situation along the road from Baghdad to the border means this is by no means an easy option," said Redmond. A mission is being planned by some health and migration officials who would take with them some basic relief items from UNHCR stocks in Baghdad.

He added that the refugee agency was discussing two options - the issue of admission and the transport of assistance across the border - with the Jordanian government in Amman and via the permanent mission in Geneva.

Al Tash camp was set up more than 20 years ago and is currently housing just under 5,000 Iranian Kurds.

Located around 60 km from Fallujah and only 12 km from Ramadi, the camp was badly affected by heavy fighting in the area last autumn. The police station located in Al Tash was targeted in November, but no direct attacks on the refugees have been reported. The camp also suffered sporadic cuts in its electricity and water supplies, medical care and educational activities.

"The chronic insecurity in this part of Iraq has also meant that UNHCR, its partners and the government authorities have been limited in their ability to respond to the refugees' needs," said Redmond. "It should be stressed that, as a very well-established camp, it has become self-sufficient in many areas, and delivery of food aid has been continuing via the nationwide food-distribution system."

Last year, 3,120 refugees moved from Al Tash to Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, where they are receiving assistance from both UNHCR and the local authorities in the form of housing and income generation projects to enable them to achieve self-reliance.

Further relocations to the north are an option for the group currently stuck at the border, said Redmond, as are returns to Al Tash camp.