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UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

25 March 2003

There have been no substantial movements of Iraqi refugees across neighbouring borders. Inside Iraq, there are media reports of people moving from cities into rural areas. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and our partners are continuing to monitor borders throughout the region and we liaise closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for information on possible movements inside Iraq. On funding, UNHCR has so far received a little over $25 million of the $60 million we need for our initial contingency plan for one month.

Our office in Iran reports this morning that there have been no arrivals of Iraqi refugees into Iran so far, although there have been reports of pockets of Iraqis who had moved along the Iraqi side of the border with Iran as a precaution. They are mainly people from northern Iraq.

Our latest reports indicate that in the past several days, more than 22,000 Iraqis have moved to the town of Panjwin, some 50 kilometres due east of Sulaymaniyah, close to the Iranian border province of Kurdistan. ICRC says these people have no immediate intentions of proceeding toward Iran.

In view of the continuing worrisome situation reported by ICRC and others in the southern city of Basra, southern Iraq, UNHCR's mobile teams based in the south-western Iranian city in Ahwaz are closely monitoring borders in that region.

Meanwhile, our preparations to receive possible Iraqi refugees continue in Iran. Work on basic infrastructure - water and sanitation facilities - is proceeding smoothly in four of 10 sites the Iranian government is preparing with assistance from UNHCR. We continue to stockpile relief items in warehouses in Ahwaz and Kermanshah towns in western Iran. Over the weekend, the Iranian government received four planeloads of relief supplies from the Russian aid agency, EMERCOM. The 150 metric tons of relief supplies flown to Kermanshah included tents, stoves, water filters, blankets, dried food, generators, flour, soap, canned milk, salt and tools. The Iranian government has turned over the Russian donation to the Iranian Red Crescent Society as part of the emergency relief supplies for Iraqi refugees.

In Turkey, three mobile UNHCR teams are in the south-east of the country monitoring the border with northern Iraq. One team is in Uludere today and two others are heading to Cukurce. They will be based there and monitor the border right up to the Iranian frontier.

Conditions are very difficult in this mountainous region. It is snowing and some roads are blocked. This is exactly where some 500,000 people arrived 12 years ago, while another 1.3 million Iraqi refugees fled into neighbouring areas of Iran. Despite reports of population displacement in the north of Iraq, Iraqis have so far not approached the frontier with Turkey - people seem to be sticking close to their communities.

In Syria, we have secured full access to all crossing points and we're receiving good cooperation from the government. On Sunday, there were 150 Iraqis gathered outside our office in Damascus - all people who arrived before the war started - usually there are only 40 to 50 Iraqis. They are currently staying with relatives.

Today, a mobile team again visited Syria's Al Yarubiyah border crossing, which was quiet. On Monday, our teams visited all three main crossing points from Iraq - Al Tanf, Abu Kamal and Al Yarubiyah. Work continues at two refugee camps the government is building at Al Tanf and Abu Kamal. A reception centre at the Al Yarubiyah crossing was completed today.

The 14 Iraqis who arrived in Syria on Sunday have been permitted by the authorities to leave the El Hawl refugee camp and stay with relatives.

So far, no Iraqi refugees have arrived in Jordan. Our team continues to monitor the Al Karama border.