April 6 2004, UN News Center - Recent security incidents and tensions in southern Iraq have prompted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to temporarily interrupt its thrice-weekly convoys carrying refugees back from Iran, a spokesman for the agency said today.
According to reports from Iraq's second city of Basra, local transporters are refusing to carry passengers beyond the city due to a fear of illegal checkpoints along the roads, hijackings and other security issues, UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler said.
UNHCR's transit centre in Basra cannot accommodate large groups of people, so the agency has opted to delay a convoy from Iran that was returning today with 208 refugees formerly residing in Shiraz, he added. The group was stopped just inside the Iranian border, where it will wait until the situation has stabilized and transport beyond Basra is readily available.
"UNHCR does not promote return to Iraq, but only facilitates the voluntary repatriation of those refugees who insist on going back," Mr. Kessler said at a press briefing in Geneva. Some 10,000 people have gone back from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon since last July with the help of UNHCR-facilitated repatriation convoys.
Mr. Kessler said many of UNHCR's partners are increasingly concerned about the security situation and unease in the south. "Despite the enormous humanitarian needs, agencies are increasingly working to keep their profiles as discreet as possible," he said. "This is seriously affecting the amounts of assistance that can be provided to returnees, non-Iraqi refugees and displaced persons residing in the region."
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