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High Commissioner in Saudia Arabia

Briefing notes

High Commissioner in Saudia Arabia

15 October 2002

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers visited Saudia Arabia's Rafha refugee camp on Monday on the last day of his official trip to the Kingdom. Rafha refugee camp currently shelters 5,200 Iraqi refugees, down from a high of some 33,000 ten years ago. The High Commissioner told the Rafha refugees that UNHCR wants to help them find a solution to their long exile. The level of assistance provided by the Saudi government for Rafha's refugees is very high, but it is a remote site and the refugees have only occasional access to the nearby town.

Over the years more than 25,200 refugees have been resettled from Rafha, while some 3,000 have repatriated to Iraq. UNHCR would like to help the remaining refugees who do not wish to repatriate to resettle to third countries or, if possible, to integrate locally.

On Sunday, the High Commissioner was received by King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz. Earlier that day while meeting with Prince Khalid bin Sultan, the Defense Minister, Mr. Lubbers was awarded the Kind Abdulaziz Sash, second class. This is the Kingdom's second highest award, and was granted in recognition of UNHCR's service on behalf of refugees.

While in Riyadh and Jeddah, High Commissioner Lubbers met a number of senior ministers and other government officials; the Secretary-General of the Gulf Coordination Council, Abdulrahman Al Attayah, and other heads of relief organizations and UNHCR staff.

The main points of discussion during his mission to Saudia Arabia involved the Rafha camp, the Kingdom's possible accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and funding issues.

On Wednesday, Mr. Lubbers arrives in Doha, Qatar, for meetings with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani and Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, President of the Qatari Charitable Society.

Following his meetings in Qatar, Mr. Lubbers will travel to Yemen for meetings Thursday with President Ali Abdullah Salah, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Abu Bakr Al Qirbi, Minister of State for Human Rights Dr. Waheeba Fare-e al Fakih, Minister of Interior Dr. Rashid Al-Alimi and other officials before travelling to Aden.

On Friday, Mr. Lubbers will visit Yemen's Al Kharaz refugee camp, which shelters some 10,000 mainly Somali and Ethiopian refugees. He will also tour the Basateen urban refugee settlement, known locally as "little Mogadishu." UNHCR provides some education and health care in the Basateen, but our main services for refugees are centered around the Al Kharaz site. Mr. Lubbers will also visit the registration centre in Aden where UNHCR and the government of Yemen recently launched a refugee registration campaign and meet government officials and UNHCR staff. Yemen shelters the region's largest non-Palestinian refugee population, with more than 65,000 refugees.