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UN agency resumes voluntary repatriation scheme for Iraqi refugees in Iran

17 September 2004, UN News Center - The United Nations refugee agency has resumed its voluntary repatriation service for Iraqis returning from Iran, helping more than 500 people head home this week, a month after operations were suspended because of security concerns.

A convoy of 251 Iraqis left the Ansar refugee camp in Iran's south Tuesday morning, arriving in the southern Iraqi city of Basra later that day, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said today.

Ron Redmond said a second convoy, this time with 276 refugees, travelled on Wednesday from the Iranian city of Ahwaz to Basra. Convoys from Ahwaz are now expected to depart every week.

The Shalamsheh border crossing in southern Iraq was closed on 12 August because of concerns about security in the area. A separate Iran-Iraq border crossing in the north, at Haj Omran, has also been shut since early August because of concerns about a lack of suitable housing in Iraq's north for returning refugees.

More than 14,000 Iraqis have returned home with the help of UNHCR from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon since last year, with the majority - about 9,000 - from Iran.

Mr. Redmond said UNHCR does not encourage Iraqi refugees to return now because their homeland "is not yet ready to absorb large numbers of returnees." The Iran-Iraq border is also heavily mined. But it helps those refugees who insist on returning.

The agency also helps the refugees once they are home by building shelters, running water projects and developing projects that generate income for Iraqis.

... Payvand News - 9/18/04 ... --

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