Iraq: returns from Iran interrupted by security fears
Recent security incidents and tensions in southern Iraq have prompted UNHCR to temporarily interrupt its thrice-weekly convoys carrying refugees back from Iran. According to reports from Basra, local transporters are refusing to carry passengers beyond the city due to a fear of illegal checkpoints along the roads, hijackings and other security issues.
Our Basra transit centre cannot accommodate large groups of people, so we've opted to delay a convoy from Iran that was returning today with 209 refugees formerly residing in Shiraz. This group was stopped at Shalamcheh, just inside the Iranian border, where it will wait until the situation has stabilised and transport beyond Basra is readily available [Tuesday's convoy was eventually permitted to cross into Iraq; a convoy planned for 7 April has been cancelled due to the security concerns]. UNHCR does not promote return to Iraq, but only facilitates the voluntary repatriation of those refugees who insist on going back. Some 10,000 people have gone back from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon since last July with the UNHCR-facilitated repatriation convoys.
Yesterday (Monday), 495 refugees, including 117 persons from Nasiriya and the rest from elsewhere in the south arrived back from Iran with a UNHCR-facilitated convoy, bringing the total of facilitated returns from Iran to over 5,000 people. The majority of yesterday's returnees (470) managed to make their way home, but 25 destined for Al Amara and Maysan governorates were left stranded at the transit centre when they could not locate onward transport.
Meanwhile, many of UNHCR's partners are increasingly concerned about the security situation and unease in the south. Despite the enormous humanitarian needs, agencies are increasingly working to keep their profiles as discreet as possible. This is seriously affecting the amounts of assistance that can be provided to returnees, non-Iraqi refugees and displaced persons residing in the region.
Just to illustrate some of the latest needs, floods have recently swept through parts of the three southern governorates of Al Muthanna, Dhi-Qar and Maysin. UNHCR provided funds in recent weeks to reinforce some of the dikes in Dhi Qar to prevent further flooding. While recent assessments show that water is slowly starting to recede in both Muthanna and Dhi-Qar, we have received information from partners in Maysin Governorate that a dike in Al Azayr recently burst. The resulting flood covered 7 sq km and displaced some 3,000 people. Security conditions permitting, our partners have undertaken assessments and plan to send hired trucks carrying tents, blankets, mattresses and soap for up to 300 families that will be delivered over the coming days in close cooperation with local authorities.