UNHCR steps up efforts to help refugees and displaced people in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 24 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is stepping up efforts to help refugees and internally displaced Iraqis in post-war Iraq. These range from finding alternative housing for hundreds of displaced Palestinians in Baghdad, to registering undocumented Syrian refugees, and providing relief aid for Iraqi Kurds returning in the north.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April this year, more than 800 Palestinian families have been evicted from their homes in Baghdad. At least another 200 families have been given notice to vacate their flats, such that by the end of June, the number of displaced refugees could rise to 1,000 Palestinian families.
UNHCR has built temporary tents for these displaced Palestinians and is negotiating with the Coalition Provisional Authority to allow the Palestinians to move to vacant government buildings as soon as possible.
Another group of refugees of concern to UNHCR are some 140 Syrian families who had left their country for Baghdad in the late 1960s and early '70s for political reasons. They had enjoyed protection under Saddam's regime but are now left to their own devices - some have been evicted, while many do not have identity papers.
The UN refugee agency has started registering them to provide them with proper documentation and to find out what they would like to do. Many said they would like to go back to Syria, but some prefer to be resettled to third countries or naturalised in Iraq.
On Monday, UNHCR staff visited yet another group of refugees - Iranians in Al Tash camp, some 180 km west of Baghdad - and heard reports about a string of violent incidents including shooting, looting and attacks by the local population over the past few weeks. UNHCR is appealing to the Coalition Provisional Authority to ensure security at the camp.
Meanwhile in northern Iraq, the refugee agency on Tuesday distributed relief aid in two Iraqi Kurd villages under a programme to help stabilise communities whose residents had been forced from their homes by the previous government.
At Bengawa and Talamater villages in Erbil's southern district of Makhmour, UNHCR handed out tents, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting, stoves, jerry cans, lanterns and blankets to 479 Iraqi Kurds in 64 families who had reoccupied their property.
These people had been forced from their homes in the mid-1980s as a result of the Saddam regime's "Arabisation policy" and had lived in appalling conditions in collective centres in Erbil and other cities. Since the end of the recent war, they have begun to return spontaneously to their original villages. Some of these Iraqi Kurds had been refugees in Iran and had come back to Iraq, but their repatriation was disrupted by the previous government.
The return to Bengawa and Talamater came after the Coalition Provisional Authority and local officials helped resolve property disputes in the two villages, negotiating an arrangement with the Arab settlers for a 50-50 sharing of this year's harvest of wheat and barley. However, property claims remain unresolved in many areas in northern Iraq.
Fearing new tensions over attempts to repossess property, UNHCR is working with the authorities to arrange for the peaceful resolution of these problems in a fair and equitable manner and to assist the displaced in their current locations.
"We know that the people who were uprooted from their homes have suffered enough, but we are appealing for a little more patience," said Pierre-François Pirlot, UNHCR's regional coordinator for northern Iraq.
"Many areas where the internally displaced people and the refugees come from lack the basic infrastructure to make returns durable," said Pirlot. He added that the presence of land mines and unexploded ordnance is another major concern.
Since the end of the war, the UN refugee agency has been expanding its presence in Iraq to deal with the return of more than 500,000 refugees and displaced Iraqis. The number includes around 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran.