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Iraq: Fighting Halts Refugee Returns From Iran


Fighting In Southern Iraq Prompts UN Agency To Halt Refugee Returns From Iran

The United Nations refugee agency has temporarily suspended its convoys for Iraqis wishing to return from neighbouring Iran because of the fighting raging in the south of the country and a housing shortage in the north.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) has been running convoys from Iran to the southern Iraqi city of Basra since last November, but spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva today these had been stopped over the last 10 days due to fighting in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf and the overall security situation in the south.

In the north, UNHCR has temporarily suspended the return of Iraqi Kurd refugees, which began in June, after local authorities expressed concerns over the housing shortage, a crucial issue in northern Iraq. The agency has been working with its partners to help build houses, provide local people with building materials, and help rehabilitate public buildings like schools and health clinics there.

UNHCR is not encouraging Iraqi refugees to return for the time being, but facilitates the repatriation of those who insist on going back. Some 13,000 people have returned from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon with agency assistance, more than half of them from Iran, host to the largest Iraqi refugee population in the world. Returnees receive a package of relief items (tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets) and one-month food ration, as well as travel assistance and mine-awareness training.

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