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Iraq: UNHCR now operating in all three main regions

Briefing notes

Iraq: UNHCR now operating in all three main regions

16 May 2003

Following the return Thursday of our senior staff to Baghdad, UNHCR is now operating in Iraq's three main regions. Our staff already returned to northern and southern Iraq early this month.

Our staff in Iraq are busy checking on conditions facing thousands of refugees, mainly Palestinians and Iranians, who have faced serious threats and security problems in recent weeks. Many have been evicted from their homes and others want to repatriate due to tension with their host communities. We're also preparing for the return of up to 500,000 Iraqi refugees, mainly from Iran and Jordan, but also from elsewhere in the region and abroad.

In southern Iraq, our staff met Shi'a leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Thursday in Najaf. The Ayatollah agreed to send a message to four tribes in the Al Dujaila region of eastern Iraq in an effort to ease pressure on Iranian refugees living there, hundreds of whom have fled their settlements in the last month due to harassment, threats, looting and evictions. Some refugees even lost their farmland, produce and livestock.

We visited the refugee settlement at Dujaila this week, where the Iranians there told us that their water supply was infrequent and that food stocks were depleted. We also met with local Iraqi tribal leaders and sought to further calm the situation. To help both the refugees and the Iraqi host communities, we organized the delivery of water to the more than 6,000 Iranian Arab refugees and their Iraqi neighbours at Dujaila, Al Kumiet and Ali Al Gharbi, which we hope will alleviate some of the problems and tension among the communities there. We also arranged for the delivery of WHO [World Health Organisation] medical supplies to Dujaila's clinic, and WFP [World Food Programme] will be sending food aid.

Some 500 Iranians who fled refugee settlements south of Al Kut due to insecurity and threats are still encamped at the Bazirghan border crossing point, seeking to return to Iran, while 19 Iranians are encamped at the Shiramsheh crossing point, also asking to repatriate. Another 80 Iranian refugees from the settlements at Dujaila are currently occupying a transit centre in Basra, and also say that they want to return home as soon as possible. We're in talks with the Iranian authorities to seek their permission to permit the speedy return of these stranded refugees, some of whom have been camped at the frontier for a month after fleeing their longtime settlements.

Our staff in the north report that services have been re-established at Makhmour refugee camp, where the some 9,000 Turkish refugees are generally in good condition

We're still caring for more than 1,200 people encamped in a makeshift site on Iraq's border with Jordan. Most of these people are Iranian Kurdish refugees who left Al Tash refugee camp in early April. Others at the no man's land are Arabs, including some 150 Iraqis and Palestinians, all seeking entry into Jordan's refugee camps in Ruweished, where we currently care for some 800 people, mainly Palestinians and their Jordanian spouses.