ANKARA, 31 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Some 4,836 Iraqi refugees living in Iran have recently returned home under the repatriation programme run by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"UNHCR is not promoting repatriation due to the bad security situation inside Iraq, but only facilitating return to those Iraqis that specifically request," spokeswoman for UNHCR's Iraq operations, Astrid van Genderen Stort, told IRIN from the Jordanian capital, Amman on Wednesday.
Although officials say a normal repatriation programme is not being operated due to the security situation inside Iraq, Iraqis are being assisted as they are desperate to return and often try and cross a dangerous heavily mined border themselves in order to go home, putting their lives at risk.
UNHCR is presently arranging three convoys a week of 300-500 refugees returning home. It is estimated that some 100,000 Iraqi refugees are still in Iran. Of this figure some 9,600 are estimated to be in camps in Fars in the northwest and in Khuzestan and Bushehr in southwestern Iran. "Not all of these refugees are planning to return immediately due to the situation in their own country," she added.
Most of the remaining 100,000 refugees in Iran had been living there since the Iran-Iraq war, primarily in the Ashrafi camp, located 150 km north of Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan. However, the camp was closed in February when the last convoy of Iraqis were repatriated to their homeland. Of those who have returned, UNHCR has assisted about 5,000, with others making spontaneous journeys back to Iraq.
Under the refugee agency's programme, which started in November, beneficiaries are given US $20 and free transportation to the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Most of the returnees stay in Basra and Diqar also in the south or move on to Maysan in the east, entering through the Shalamshea border crossing, the UNHCR spokeswoman said.
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