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High Commissioner completes mission

Briefing notes

High Commissioner completes mission

7 March 2003

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers just returned to Geneva this morning from Tehran, completing a 10-day, three-nation mission to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. In Iran yesterday, Mr. Lubbers visited possible new campsites for Iraqi refugees at Yazde-no and Darshia, in the west of the country. During his two-day mission in Iran, he met President Khatami, Foreign Minister Kharrzai and Interior Minister Lari, as well as senior provincial and Red Crescent officials in Ahwaz, Khuzistan Province.

Mr. Lubbers said that while war is not inevitable, it is important that governments in the region and the humanitarian community work to be prepared. He said the Iranian government has been exemplary in its efforts to handle a possible Iraqi influx.

Yesterday, the High Commissioner saw land being cleared for camps, and roads and other facilities being prepared. Iranian officials told Mr. Lubbers that they expect to have three sites ready in a short time. In all, seven sites are currently under preparation, out of 10 planned. Each is designed to accommodate about 20,000 people. Iran has a long record of hosting Iraqi refugees. It currently shelters more than 202,000 Iraqis - half the world's recognised Iraqi refugee population. They include 48,000 who reside in camps in the west of the country.

UNHCR plans to support the Iranian government and the Iranian Red Crescent. We are currently shipping relief items to Ahwaz as part of our regional preparedness effort. Regionally, with our other stockpiles in Aqaba, Jordan and Iskenderun, Turkey, we currently have sufficient stocks for some 200,000 people, and expect to have supplies for more than 300,000 pre-positioned by the end of March. The International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, together with the national Red Crescent societies in the region, have additional stockpiles in the six neighbouring countries.

While UNHCR has to date spent more than $25 million building up its regional stockpiles of relief items and fielding additional staff, we have only received $16.6 million, with the last major contribution a month old. The cost of our preparedness effort for up to 600,000 refugees is $60 million, so we still need about $44 million for the effort and to repay borrowed funds. So we're doing the very best we can within the limited resources available to us.

Mr. Lubbers' visit to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan was his fourth trip to the region since taking office in early 2001.