On Wednesday 114 refugees, including 59 children, from two camps in western Iran were taken back in a 12-vehicle convoy to Basra in southern Iraq, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today in Geneva. They had been living for more than 20 years in Mottahari and Ansar refugee camps in Iran's Khuzestan Province.
According to spokesman Peter Kessler, the returnees were escorted into Basra by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) personnel, where they received relief items, including blankets, plastic tarpaulins, lanterns, household supplies, hygienic items and, if necessary, tents, from local UNHCR and partner agency staff. Prior to leaving Iran, they underwent mine awareness training at the Shalamcheh border.
More than 6,000 Iraqis have returned from Iran with UNHCR help since convoys started last November, while some 4,800 have returned from Saudi Arabia.
Next week, UNHCR and Iran's refugee office plan to open voluntary repatriation centres in Ahwaz and Kermanshah Provinces where Iraqis seeking to go home despite the unstable security situation can register for transport, Mr. Kessler said.
"Because of the recent tension throughout Iraq, UNHCR is only assisting Iraqis refugees who insist on going back and who originate from Basra, Dhiqar or Muthana governorates in the south," he said.
Mr. Kessler also called attention to UNHCR's funding shortfall for its Iraq operations, noting that it has not received any contributions for its $74 million programme in Iraq so far. "We are in need of urgent contributions from donors to maintain our programmes as well as to care for some 2,000 refugees living in rough camps in eastern Jordan," he said.
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