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Iraq: despite security concerns, refugees still returning ahead of handover

Briefing notes

Iraq: despite security concerns, refugees still returning ahead of handover

18 June 2004

Despite security concerns, refugees continue to return to Iraq ahead of the 30 June handover of power to the Iraqi Interim Government.

UNHCR is not encouraging Iraqis to return, but it is facilitating convoys in cooperation with the Iraqi authorities for those who wish to go home. This month, more than 350 Iraqi refugees returned in two separate convoys from Khuzestan and Fars provinces in Iran to Basra Governorate in southern Iraq. This brings the total number of returnees to some 11,500 with most coming from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Elsewhere in the region, 170 Palestinians who fled Iraq last year have now left a no man's land site and the adjacent Ruweished refugee camp on the Jordanian border and returned to Baghdad. The refugees said they had given up hope of finding a new home in the Middle East and preferred to return to Baghdad. UNHCR is providing all the returnees with transport assistance and various relief items.

In Baghdad we are assisting 450 Palestinian families with rental support, medical care and other relief items and are relocating Palestinian families who had been forced out of their homes a year ago. Only 35 families are still living in tents at the Haifa Sports Club. One hundred and forty families have already been relocated. Last year, we registered some 23,000 Palestinians in Baghdad but the total number in the Iraqi capital is estimated at around 30,000.

UNHCR is planning to provide further support for the reintegration of returning refugees and displaced Iraqis in the three northern governorates as well for Turkish refugees at Makhmour camp, near Erbil, and Syrian refugees settled in Baghdad. We are also planning to facilitate the repatriation of Iraqi ethnic Kurds back to northern Iraq from their settlements in Iran.