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UK considers further aid to Iran for Iraqi refugees

London, Feb 11, IRNA -- The British government is considering offering more bilateral assistance to Iran for Iraqi refugees after announcing a donation towards UN humanitarian contingency planning in the event of a US-led war.

The UN High Commission for Refugees stopped earmarking funding specifically for Iraqi refugees in Iran in 1992, when widening donations towards regional help for south-west Asia as a whole.

Instead, Britain's Department for International Development has channelled funding for Iraqi refugees in Iran through the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, set up by Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Nicholson.

Over the past three years, the British department has provided Pnds 2.25 million (Dlrs 3.6 m) to AMAR in support of health care and water and sanitation interventions to 95,000 Marsh Arabs and refugees in Iran.

Speaking in parliament on Monday, International Development Secretary Clare Short said that "further support for the future is under consideration."

She also announced that following discussions with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, her department was providing Pnds 3.5 m in support of UN humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq.

The funds, Short said, would be allocated to a range of UN agencies that were likely to include UNHCR, the UN's Children's Fund, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the UN Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD).

The minister was unable to specify what level of funding had been provided by UNHCR to assist Iraqi refugees in Iran during the past decade.

The UNHCR earmarked only Pnds 856,193 for south-west Asia in 2002 with no funds being provided for the program by the UK. Some of this "may have partly been used to fund Iraqis in Iran," she said in a written answer to parliament.

Over the past two weeks, the British government has faced 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.

Short has previously admitted that she has held no direct discussions with any of Iraq's neighbours, including Iran, with regarding their policy of accepting refugees in the event of a war launched.

"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," she told MPs last week.

The lack of contingency planning has led the all-party International Development Committee to announce that it was 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."

... Payvand News - 2/11/03 ... --

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