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Iraqi refugee camp in Iran closed

ANKARA, 9 Feb 2004 (IRIN) - One of the largest camps to host Iraqi refugees in Iran closed over the weekend, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed. "It went very smoothly," UNHCR spokeswoman in the Iranian capital, Tehran, Marie-Helene Verney, told IRIN on Monday.

The remaining 205 refugees in the Ashrafi camp, located 150 km north of Ahvaz, the capital of the southwestern Kuzestan province, were transported back to their homeland via the Shalamshea border crossing on Saturday. "The convoy was escorted by CPA troops," she explained. The camp was home to some 12,000 Iraqis, many of whom had lived there for more than a decade following the first Gulf war in 1991.

There were some 200,000 Iraqi refugees living in Iran last year, of which approximately 50,000 have returned home, according to rough estimates. Although UNHCR is assisting refugees to return, Verney stressed that this was not a repatriation programme in the normal sense.

"This is not a full repatriation programme as conditions are not right for refugees to return. However, so many were desperate to return by themselves and were in need of assistance over a heavily mined border that we decided to help them," she added.

Under the UNHCR programme, which started in November, refugees are give US $20 and free transportation to the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

UNHCR has a very limited presence inside Iraq due to the security situation there, making it very difficult for a repatriation programme, such as the one in Afghanistan, to operate.

So far the refugee agency has helped more than 2,000 Iraqi's in Iran to return home. "Many have gone back on their own, through a heavily mined area which concerns us," she added.

Meanwhile, returns of Iraqi refugees from other parts of the country are continuing, with some two convoys per week heading for the border with Iran.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

... Payvand News - 2/9/04 ... --

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