AMMAN, 7 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Officials from the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in Jordan have urged around 200 Iranian-Kurdish refugees stuck on the Iraqi side of the Jordan-Iraq border to move to a new settlement in the northern Iraqi governorate of Arbil.
The group left the al-Tash refugee camp, west of the capital, Baghdad, in January 2005, and made their way to the westernmost frontier. Lacking official permission to enter Jordan, however, they have remained there ever since.
"After the Jordanian authorities reiterated that there was no possibility of entering Jordan, the only option for them is to move immediately to Arbil, where it's safe and where appropriate assistance can be provided by UNHCR and local authorities," UNHCR representative Anne Marie Deutschlander said at a press conference in Amman on Monday.
For more than two decades, the al-Tash camp was home to over 12,000 Iranian-Kurdish refugees who fled Iran in the 1980s when Tehran and Baghdad were at war.
But following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and clashes between insurgent and US forces, some refugees left the camp in fear of being caught up in the fighting. The camp is located in the area of Ramadi, part of the so-called "Sunni triangle," some 110 km from Baghdad.
It is thought that the group was trying to join another 660 refugees, also Iranian Kurds, living on the Jordanian side of the border in a camp in no-man's land, which is recognised by Amman.
However, in May 2005, this camp was closed and the refugees were transferred to another camp in Ruweished, 350 km east of the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Now, the group on the Iraqi side of the border are refusing to move from their current location in hopes that they will be resettled by the refugee agency in another country.
"The territory where these refugees are now isn't Iraq, nor is it officially Jordan," said Deutschlander. "Both administrative and security reasons mean that UNHCR-Amman is unable to freely access those residing outside Jordanian borders." She added: "We can't resettle these people to third countries because they're outside of our mandate."
There is limited UNHCR staff available on the Iraqi side of the frontier due to frequent attacks on aid workers. Nevertheless, UNHCR personnel have managed to visit the refugees, and have advised them to take advantage of accommodations and facilities available at the Kawa settlement in northern Iraq. The Kawa site was opened in September 2005 following an agreement between the Kurdistan Regional Government and UNHCR.
The refugee agency will provide those refugees who decide to relocate to Kawa with grants of up to US $500 per family in order to cover transportation expenses. Each family will also receive a US $400 resettlement grant; individuals will receive US $200.
According to Vandana Patel, UNHCR protection officer at the Iraq-Operation Unit in Amman, a total of 1,300 Iranian-Kurdish refugees from al-Tash camp have already relocated to Kawa due to insurgent activity in the area since the signing of the September agreement.
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