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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Iraqis in Iran still want to return, says UN High Commissioner for Refugees

TEHRAN, 15 April 2004 (IRIN) - There is still a demand from Iraqi refugees in Iran to return home, despite the current security situation, Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told IRIN in an interview in the Iranian capital, Tehran, this week.

"By far the large majority of Iraqis living in Iran still want to go home, even though there is a volatile situation. Although already 70,000 - that's about one third of Iraqis living in Iran - have gone home, we don't hear stories of problems, so it is an indication that in the villages and where they go back, they are received as family and do not become victims of violence again," he said during a visit to the country this week.

The agency had suspended the facilitated return of Iraqi refugees due to security concerns. UNHCR was not promoting returns, but was assisting refugees, desperate to return on their own by trying to cross a dangerously heavily mined border.

Iran is home to some 202,000 Iraqi refugees, most of whom fled during the 1970’s and 1980’s in fear of persecution and again during the Gulf War in 1991. Since last July, an estimated 120,000 have already returned, with UNHCR facilitating 5,000 from Iran, and a further 5,000 from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Lubbers also spoke of Marsh Arab refugees in Iran and the possibility of the agency helping to rehabilitate the land they lived on.

"I think it will be quite difficult. I know that the UN is looking into it, in particular UNDP together with others. But UNHCR as a refugee agency certainly has not got the capacity to do the work, which is quite a challenge," he explained.

Of the estimated 250,000 people who were living in the marshes in 1991, as few as 40,000 remain. Tens of thousands fled to neighbouring Iran or moved to safer areas within Iraq when they were forced out by Saddam Hussein's regime. Human rights groups estimate that 100,000 Marsh Arabs remain displaced within Iraq.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs




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