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UNHCR Fears Growing Over Fate of Iranian Kurd Refugees

By Lisa Schlein, VOA, Geneva

The U.N. Refugee Agency says it is growing increasingly concerned about a group of more than 100 Iranian Kurd refugees who are stuck at the Iraqi/Jordanian border. The agency says the group arrived at the border in three batches over the past four weeks.

The U.N. Refugee Agency says the group of Iranian Kurds includes at least five pregnant women and a large number of children. UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, says these people had been staying in Al Tash, a long-standing refugee camp in Iraq.

He says the camp is located around 60 kilometers from the city of Falluja and only 12 kilometers from Ramadi. Both places were scenes of heavy fighting in the autumn. He says Al Tash camp was badly affected by the fighting and that may explain why the Iranian Kurds decided to leave.

"We believe the initial spark that prompted this was some of the unrest that was the result or the violence and fear of that in November," Mr. Redmond said. "So, they may have moved toward the border because of that, but we still need to get access to these people to determine what it was that prompted them to move. But, we feel it was linked possibly to that violence."

Mr. Redmond says the refugees have not been allowed to enter Jordan, nor to join another group of about 600 refugees - also mostly Iranian Kurds from Al Tash. They have been living in a camp in the so-called no-man's land between the two countries for the past year and a half.

He says the UNHCR has been considering the possibility of providing assistance to the refugees from the Iraqi side. But, he notes the security situation along the road from Baghdad to the border is bad and may prevent this.

He says officials from the Iraqi Ministries of Migration and Health are planning to go to the border area, security permitting. If they succeed, he says the officials will take some much needed basic relief supplies with them. He says the refugees are staying in a makeshift settlement along the border. He says they are living a precarious hand-to-mouth existence.

"The refugees are believed to be surviving on the charities of passersby and this is a situation that will not be tenable for much longer," he said. "Weather conditions are bad and the refugees are reported to be growing increasingly desperate. There are also sick people in that group, but no medical assistance has been able to reach them so far."

Spokesman Ron Redmond says the UNHCR is exploring several options to help these people. These include the possibility of relocating them to other areas of Northern Iraq or returning them to the Al Tash camp.

In the meantime, he says the agency is telling both the Iraqi and Jordanian authorities that the Iranian Kurds must receive food, medical care and other material assistance without further delay.

... Payvand News - 2/13/05 ... --

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