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UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

23 April 2003

First refugees arrive in Jordan's Ruwaished camp

The Jordanian government has admitted some 300 Palestinian refugees coming from Iraq, among them people who were stuck in no man's land for nearly three weeks. These refugees arrived in a series of convoys from the border since late Monday night, and are currently sheltered in the UNHCR/Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation (JHCO) camp at Ruwaished. The last group to arrive crossed into Jordan in the early hours of this morning aboard buses hired by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Twenty-seven Iraqi war refugees, some of whom have been waiting for three weeks for entry into the camps at Ruwaished, are still in no man's land separating Jordan from Iraq. UNHCR's Representative in Jordan, Sten Bronee, met with government officials today regarding this group, and was informed that they will be admitted to the camp at Ruwaished.

Finally, more than 850 Iranians remain in the no man's land at Al Karama, most of them ethnic Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp.

Some Iraqi refugees in Saudi Arabia request to return

Despite the unsettled situation in Iraq, some 150 Iraqi refugees living in Saudi Arabia's Rafha refugee camp have indicated a willingness to return home as soon as possible. Senior UNHCR staff from our Riyadh office are in Rafha camp today to meet with these refugees. They are also talking to some of the more than 5,200 other Iraqis in the camp who are watching the situation in their homeland, apparently also hoping to go back when the situation stabilizes.

Saudi Arabia established Rafha and Artewiya camps in 1991 to shelter some of the more than 93,000 Iraqis who fled into Saudi Arabia and Coalition-controlled areas of southern Iraq. Most of the original Iraqi refugees returned to their homeland in the months following the end of that conflict, and Artewiya was closed in late 1992. Rafha initially sheltered 33,000 people, but over the years over 25,000 were resettled to third countries and more than 3,500 opted to voluntarily return home.

We prefer that any repatriation to Iraq should wait until there is proper security and a stable supply of humanitarian aid.

UNHCR staff on mission in southern Iraq

A UNHCR staff member from our Kuwait City office is on mission today in the southern Iraqi town of Umm Qasr making contact with local officials.

This is the second mission by a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) staff member into Iraq in as many days - yesterday one of our colleagues accompanied a multi-agency mission that travelled 75 kilometres into western Iraq to check on security up to Rutba, and in the area around the Trebil border crossing.

Over the coming days we are planning to send additional staff deeper into southern Iraq. The focus of these planned overland missions is to learn how some 5,500 Iranian marsh Arab refugees - ethnic Ahwazis - settled east of Diwaniyah at Dujaila, Ali Al Gharbi and Al Kumeit, have come through the war. We will also be checking on their willingness to possibly repatriate back to Iran. More than 1,100 Iranian refugees repatriated from Iraq in 2002.

During these planned missions in southern Iraq, our staff will also meet with local leaders, and over time, look into the capacity of communities to absorb any Iraqi refugees who might be willing to repatriate from neighbouring Iran. Iran shelters some 202,000 Iraqi refugees - last year only some 460 Iraqi Arabs and 675 Iraqi Kurds opted to return from Iran, down from previous years.