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High Commissioner in the Iraq region

Briefing notes

High Commissioner in the Iraq region

22 July 2003

The High Commissioner should be arriving back in Basra, in southern Iraq, around now, after crossing the Iraq-Iran border for the second time in two days. He spent most of yesterday in Iran, where he was able to hear first-hand from Iraqi refugees living in the Ashrafi refugee camp, in southern Khuzestan province, about their desire to go home. UNHCR has already established a list of Iraqis who are approaching the agency and asking for assistance to return to their home country.

The High Commissioner told them that he hopes UNHCR will be able to organize the first pilot return convoy to Iraq some time in August, but cautioned that this was an ambitious goal and there were still a number of obstacles to overcome. These include not only the security situation and lack of basic services, but also the lack of public institutions to identify and register returning refugees.

During the High Commissioner's first visit to Basra at the weekend, he discussed these obstacles with representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), who are concerned that the necessary arrangements should be in place before returns start. UNHCR, for its part, will put an emphasis on going to the villages and cities where refugees want to return, to discuss the practicalities of reintegration with the local authorities and inhabitants. Obviously, adequate security will be a vital factor if UNHCR is to carry out this important role.

The planned return of the first group of Iraqi refugees who have been living for more than a decade in Rafha camp in the Saudi Arabian desert has already been delayed for similar reasons.

Later today the High Commissioner will proceed to Kuwait, the fourth and final country in his eight-day regional tour. He is due to return to Geneva on Thursday.