SLUG: 2-304362 UNHCR Iraqi Refugees (L-O)
TITLE=UNHCR/IRAQI REFUGEES (L-O)
INTRO: The U-N Refugee Agency says conditions are not yet right for the return of hundreds-of-thousands of Iraqis who sought asylum in other countries while Saddam Hussein was in power. Lisa Schlein reports from U-N-H-C-R headquarters in Geneva that the agency says it is prepared to help the refugees go home once the situation in Iraq settles down.
TEXT: Most Iraqis who fled their country did so to escape persecution under the Saddam Hussein regime. About 200-thousand of them are in neighboring Iran. Many fled there during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and have lived in Iran ever since.
The Iranian government says about 48-thousand of the Iraqis live in refugee camps, while the rest have become integrated into Iranian communities. U-N refugee spokesman Rupert Colville says many Iraqi refugees, including some outside the camps, want to go home.
/// COLVILLE ACT ///
So, I think the Iranians are very concerned that they will get frustrated if they are not able to go home soon. And, that will cause a problem in Iran. But, I think everyone agrees, including the U-N-H-C-R, that the best way to go about this is to have a well-organized repatriation operation, probably phased, not too sudden, as soon as conditions allow. We have not quite reached that point yet.
/// END ACT ///
Iranian authorities recently accused the United States and Britain of delaying the return of tens-of-thousands of Iraqi refugees. Mr. Colville says the coalition is concerned that a sudden disorganized return of thousands of refugees could further destabilize Iraq.
A statement issued by the State Department notes that the United States supports well-ordered returns at the earliest possible date.
Mr. Colville says the U-N refugee agency has drawn up plans to repatriate about one-half million Iraqi refugees.
/// OPT /// But he says it is too soon to begin this operation now.
/// 2ND COLVILLE ACT ///
Obviously, the number one concern is the security situation. You do not want people going back into a dangerous situation. Then there are some very complicated issues about property. Some refugees have been outside the country for many, many years. Quite a few in Iran left 20-years ago or more. There are similar issues for people displaced inside Iraq, let alone the refugees outside. This is going to be very difficult. It is one of the most difficult issues refugees face when it is a long-standing situation.
/// END ACT // END OPT ///
European governments also are eager for Iraqi refugees living in their countries to go home. Two-weeks ago, European officials said they were making plans to repatriate about one-quarter million Iraqi refugees. But they have agreed to postpone the returns until conditions in Iraq were safer. (SIGNED)
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