More Iranian refugees flee intimidation in Iraq
BASRA, Iraq, May 13 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has expressed concern at the rising number of refugees being targeted in post-war Iraq after a UNHCR team emerged from refugee settlements in the south with reports of widespread intimidation and eviction.
Up to 1,000 Iranian refugees may be displaced in southern Iraq after having their homes, crops and other property confiscated. Some of them are living in an abandoned transit centre on the outskirts of Basra city. Many others are camped out near the border area with Iran, intent on heading back to their homeland.
On Sunday, a UNHCR team visited the displaced Iranians' homes in the refugee settlements of Dujaila, Al-Kumiet and Ali Gharbi. The team spoke to some of the remaining refugees - estimated at 5,000 to 6,000 - and to local Iraqi tribal leaders in an attempt to diffuse tensions.
At Dujaila, the refugees reported frequent gunfire in the neighbourhood, that food stocks had been depleted, the school had been destroyed and that water and electricity had been suspended in the area for more than two months. They also said that local Iraqi militias had ordered them to leave.
While the UNHCR team was there, it heard two long bursts of small arms fire, observed a truck carrying masked men and even saw a young boy armed with an AK-47 walking away from the settlement. These eye-witness accounts gelled with reports of a systematic campaign of intimidation from refugees who had fled to the Basra area. Like several other agencies that have visited Dujaila settlement, UNHCR believes that the refugees are in grave danger.
Almost all the displaced Iranian refugees that the UN refugee agency has spoken to have expressed a wish to repatriate to Iran. UNHCR has been negotiating with the Iranian government to re-admit them, but these discussions have yet to lead to any results.
In all, there are more than 23,000 Iranian refugees in Iraq. There are 6,700 Iranian Arab refugees in the south, including those in Dujaila and Al-Kumiet settlements. They are mostly Shia Muslims, and have been in Iraq since the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s. Mainly farmers, they were - at least before the recent war - considered to be well integrated with the host population.
There are also 12,000 Iranian Kurds settled in Al-Tash camp to the west of Baghdad, and a further 4,600 Iranian refugees settled in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah governorates in northern Iraq. In addition, there are between 60,000 and 90,000 Palestinian refugees, mostly in Baghdad, and around 13,000 Turkish refugees in the north.
The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and the ensuing security vacuum in Iraq have led to a disturbing trend of persecution against refugees in the country. The Iranians' expulsion follows recent reports of Palestinian refugees getting evicted from their homes in Baghdad.
In a separate development, on Monday, 16 young Iraqis and Palestinians encamped in the no man's land near Jordan were picked up by the Jordanian authorities and deposited back on the Iraqi side of the border. There has so far been no clear explanation, and UNHCR is negotiating with the Jordanian authorities to resolve their situation.
The refugee agency has reiterated its appeal to all states to bear in mind the unstable situation in Iraq and to continue providing temporary protection to those who need it.