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UK holding indirect talks on Iraqi refugee threat to Iran

London, Feb 7, IRNA -- Britain's International Development Secretary Clare Short says that she has been holding indirect consultations about the likely flood of Iraqi refugees seeking sanctuary in Iran in the event of a US-led war to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We and many of our European partners are in close contact with relevant specialist international agencies about the potential for an increased flow of refugees into Iran and other neighbouring countries," Short told MPs.

The British government has come under growing criticism from opposition parties with regard to its lack of preparations to deal with a likely humanitarian crisis in Iraq in line with military contingency plans.

Two weeks ago, the International Development secretary admitted that she had held no direct discussions with any of Iraq's neighbours about their policy of accepting refugees in the event of a war launched.

In a written parliamentary question on Wednesday, Conservative MP Patrick Mercer asked Short what actions were being taken by the government in conjunction with other European countries "to deal with the likely increase of Iraqi refugees in Iran in the event of military action in the region."

"The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees receives annual core funding from my department partly to enable them to prepare for such eventualities," she replied.

"They are drawing up appropriate contingency plans, including the prepositioning of food and other basic supplies," the parliament was told.

The all-party International Development Committee announced this week that it is setting up an inquiry into preparations for the humanitarian consequences of possible military action against Iraq.

It followed a call last week by the opposition Conservative Party for the British government "to work with the international community urgently to draw up a comprehensive humanitarian strategy for assisting the people of Iraq in the event of war."

"Iran already finds it a difficult burden given that one million Iraqis crossed to Iran during the (1991 Persian) Gulf war," shadow International Development Caroline Spelman warned.

... Payvand News - 2/7/03 ... --

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