Iran on Thursday warned of an imminent human catastrophe if the international community failed to address the plight of Iraqi refugees who were already on their heels towards neighboring countries because of the US-led invasion, IRNA reported from Tehran.
"If the number of refugees and Iraqi asylum seekers swells and the international community makes no coordination, we will face a human tragedy," Deputy Interior Minister and the head of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Agency (BAFIA), Ahmad Hosseini, said.
"We are seriously worried about the lack of international community's participation in assisting the Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers," he added.
Hosseini, who is also the head of the Iranian interior ministry's refugee crisis headquarters, said so far no refugees had been sighted near the Iranian borders.
The official predicted that a protracted war would unleash a refugee influx of between 500,000 to 1.2 million towards Iranian borders.
"Given the density of population in southern Iraq, it is predicted that the asylum seekers will flood Iran from that country's south," he said of the Shiite-based population who live near marshlands.
Iranian borders with Iraq will remain closed until further notice, Hosseini said as he reiterated the Islamic Republic's readiness to settle probable refugees inside the Iraqi soil.
In the event of any refugee arrival, they will be diverted to the camps which have already been set up on the no man's land, he said.
"Any assistance of the Islamic Republic to refugees will be carried out inside the Iraqi soil and Iran will hand over any necessary aid to the United Nations and Iraqi officials," he added.
Some 1.3 million Iraqi refugees flooded Iranian borders during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
In January, Hossein said that the Islamic Republic had envisaged establishing 19 camps on the border strip if the lives of refugees were deemed to be in serious danger.
"These camps have been selected (to be set up) at 500 meters at the least and 10 kilometers at the most from the border strip in five provinces bordering Iraq," the official said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, said here early this month that Iran would be ready to protect refugees against a possible US-led war on Iraq if an urgent case arose.
Iran is still following a "closed door" policy towards the influx of likely Iraqi refugees but Iranian officials have promised to extend relief to the refugees if their lives are on the line, the UNHCR chief told a press briefing after meeting with President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari.
He said the UNHCR and Iran would set up 10 refugee camps on the no man's land near the border with Iraq for settling 200,000 to 250,000 possible refugees, mostly southern Iraqi Shiites.
Meanwhile the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Iran, Philippe Lavanchy, here Thursday announced that UNHCR had mobilized resources to deal with a possible initial influx of 60,000 Iraqi refugees, donating one million US dollars for the preparation of four camp sites along the Iranian frontier with Iraq.
He said the situation remained calm along the Iran-Iraq border crossings as of mid-morning Thursday following the US announcement of the start of the war against Iraq.
UNHCR hands over $1 million for Iraq refugees sites
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced today it has mobilized resources to deal with a possible initial influx of 60,000 Iraqi refugees, donating $1 million for the preparation of four camp sites along the Iranian frontier with Iraq.
Philippe Lavanchy, UNHCR's chief of mission in Iran, said the situation remained calm along the Iran-Iraq border crossings as of mid-morning today following the US announcement of the start of the war against Iraq and that so far there had been reports of Iraqi refugee movements into Iran.
"Our preparations for a possible influx of refugees have been severely hampered by lack of funding by donors who had been hoping that war in Iraq could be avoided, but now that is upon us, we have to move very quickly," Lavanchy said.
UNHCR coordinates relief effort by the international community with the Iranian refugee agency, BAFIA.
The UN refugee agency has appealed for $60 million for the possible outflow of 600,000 Iraqi refugees - a working figure - into Iraq's neighboring countries, half of them into Iran.
So far, it has received $19.5 million, which has already been spent on procurement of relief items and other preparedness measures.
The $1 million UNHCR has released to BAFIA is for expenses for the preparatory work, including clearing of land mines, construction of access roads and building of water and sanitation facilities, in four camp sites along the border inside southwestern Iran.
Each of the four sites will have a capacity for 15,000 refugees and can be expanded as the need arises.
Ground levelling and demining have also been done on six other camp sites along the Iranian border.
UNHCR has stockpiled in its warehouses in Iran's western cities of Ahwaz and Kermanshah relief items such as tents, jerry cants, lamps, blankets, sanitary napkins, mattresses and supplementary food.
Nine staff members from UNHCR's emergency response roster have been dispatched to Iran to deal with possible Iraqi influx and further reinforcements are being planned.
The Iranian government told High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers during a visit earlier this month that while Iran's policy is to close its borders it is prepared to live up to its humanitarian obligations.
Iran also said it needed international aid to deal with the refugees.
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