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Cablegate: Iranian Refugees in Iraq

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 KUWAIT 002103

SIPDIS

STATE ALSO PASS USAID/W
STATE PLEASE REPEAT TO IO COLLECTIVE
STATE FOR PRM/ANE, EUR/SE, NEA/NGA, IO AND SA/PAB
NSC FOR EABRAMS, SMCCORMICK, STAHIR-KHELI, JDWORKEN
USAID FOR USAID/A, DCHA/AA, DCHA/RMT, DCHA/FFP
USAID FOR DCHA/OTI, DCHA/DG, ANE/AA
USAID FOR DCHA/OFDA:WGARVELINK, BMCCONNELL, KFARNSWORTH
USAID FOR ANE/AA:WCHAMBERLIN
ROME FOR FODAG
GENEVA FOR RMA AND NKYLOH
DOHA FOR MSHIRLEY
ANKARA FOR AMB WRPEARSON, ECON AJSIROTIC AND DART
AMMAN FOR USAID AND DART

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PREF IZ WFP
SUBJECT: IRANIAN REFUGEES IN IRAQ

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. An estimated 7,000 Iranian refugees live in Iraq, mostly
in settlements from Al Amarah to Al Kut. Life for them has
become more precarious with the defeat of the former regime.
When most arrived in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war 23 years
ago, the regime rewarded refugees with parcels of land.
However, in the last month, some refugees complain they have
been forcibly evicted from their homes in the south, with
their houses burned, crops destroyed and land seized by
local Iraqis. Other Iranian refugees have left their homes
to travel back to Iran, only to find the border posts
closed, and little or no water or food available. UNHCR is
aware of the situation and has met with Iranian refugee
representatives to try to resolve the problems and to
restart the repatriation of the Iranian refugees. End
Summary.

----------
BACKGROUND
----------

2. The largest number of Iranian refugees in Iraq reside in
the town of Dujaila, south of Al Kut. Of a population of
12,000 in Dujaila, 5,000 are Iranian refugees. The United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met recently
with refugee representatives in the town. One UNHCR
official described the situation as "explosive" and said it
could lead to armed conflict between groups of local Iraqis
and Iranian refugees, both of which have weapons. Some
refugees complain they have been ordered out of their homes
by Iraqis, with their homes and crops destroyed and land
taken. UNHCR said even the four Iraqi tribal leaders with
whom they met in Dujaila stated that it was "time for the
Iranians to leave behind their lands and to return to Iran."
Some refugees complained that local Iraqis told them they
were living on the Iraqis' land and to return to Iran.
Others said they heard an Iranian radio broadcast, telling
them to go to the border because they would be allowed to
cross into Iran. Some refugee families refuse to leave
because they do not want to abandon or be forced to sell off
their livestock.

3. Responding to these push factors, an estimated 500
refugees left their homes in Al Kumayt and the River Sa'ad
areas. The refugees traveled to the Makhfar Sharhani border
crossing between Iraq and Iran, and this group is camped at
the Iraqi border post in the middle of a desert, about 100
kilometers northeast of Al Amarah.

-------------------------------
DART ASSESSMENT OF REFUGEE CAMP
-------------------------------

4. The DART and the International Medical Corps, escorted
by two Coalition vehicles, traveled to the refugee
encampment on 10 May for a rapid assessment of the water and
food needs of those living at the border crossing point.

5. The road to the border narrows from a two-lane,
blacktopped road to a one-lane, partially paved road,
scarred by the 1980 Iraq-Iran war, explosions of landmines,
and years of neglect. At the approach to the border post,
signs posted along both sides of the road read in Arabic:
"Ihzar: Haql Algham," or "Watch out: Minefield." Burned
Iraqi tanks and trucks dot the barren landscape that
parallels the highway northeast to the border.

6. The Iraqi border post consists of a few buildings,
including one that resembles a miniature castle with four
towers, long ago abandoned for use by immigration and
customs officials. The tribal leader of the refugees, or
sheikh, says life at the border post is "harder than the
life of an animal. At least, animals are provided with
shelter." Temperatures already reach into the upper 90s
(Fahrenheit) during the day, and will get hotter as summer
begins.

7. The refugees are camped out mostly in the open, a few of
them using large tents for housing, including the sheikh and
his extended family, but most have erecting shacks of
corrugated metal sheets, supported by wooden slats and
covered with blankets or strips of fabric.

8. Although the sheikh says 104 families or about 750
Iranian refugees have been living at the border for a month,
the DART estimated the refugee population at about half that
number. The sheikh said he expects more families to follow
them to the border post once it is confirmed they can cross
into Iran.

9. There is no running water or electricity at the
settlement. Refugee women fill a 20-liter jerrycan or
bucket with drinking water from a tanker provided by the
Iranian Red Crescent Society, one kilometer east of the
settlement at the border and walk back to the camp, carrying
the containers on their heads. The sheikh told the DART the
group receives daily visits by the water tanker. Refugees
International personnel, in a later visit to the refugee
encampment, were told the tanker visits are infrequent. The
refugees told the DART the water is clear and clean,
although it has not been tested for impurities or bacteria.
Many parents complained that their children suffer from
diarrhea. According to the refugee leader, one baby died
of pneumonia. Another child died after being bitten by a
poisonous snake. Several refugee families had limited
amounts of antibiotics including amoxicillin.

---------------------------------------
IRANIAN RED CRESCENT SOCIETY ASSISTANCE
---------------------------------------

10. The Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) sends a doctor
to the camp every four to five days. An estimated 15 women
are pregnant. One pregnant woman, due to give birth in a
few days, according to her medical paperwork, said she has
yet to see a doctor at the camp because all the visiting
doctors have been men.

11. IRCS also provides a small amount of food to the
refugees. The amount and variety of food varies but may
include bread, canned meat or fish, peas, tea, biscuits, and
occasionally, dates. The refugees say British troops who
visited the camp a few weeks ago brought with them nine bags
of rice, some tea and tins of pork for the refugees (but
quickly withdrew the pork when they realized their mistake
of offering it to Muslims). Some refugee families have
livestock including chickens, sheep, and cows.

12. There are no latrines at the camp, and the refugees
relieve themselves anywhere in the settlement, which is
surrounded by unexploded ordnance and mines. According to
the sheikh, one child threw a rock into the dirt recently,
and it hit a landmine, causing it to explode. A shepherd
also passed through the camp with his herd, triggering
another landmine explosion, which killed four sheep.
Fortunately, no one has been hurt in the camp from UXO or
landmine explosions.

----------------
UNHCR ASSISTANCE
----------------

13. UNHCR representatives in Basrah said they plan to
travel to the border encampment by the end of the week to
assess how to help the refugees. One UNHCR official said
his approach would be two-fold: 1) for UNHCR to pressure
Iran to restart the refugee repatriation program and 2) to
persuade the refugees to leave the border regions for safer
encampments until UNHCR can help them return to Iran in a
safe and orderly manner.

14. UNHCR plans to send additional humanitarian assistance
to Dujaila this week to help defuse tensions between Iranian
refugees and Iraqi residents. UNHCR, in conjunction with
the World Health Organization (WHO), plans to send a WHO
health kit to provide medications to the 5,000 Iranian
refugees as well as the Iraqi residents in town. A second
WHO health kit has been requested and UNHCR will determine
later where to send it. UNHCR has also hired an Iraqi
contractor to provide eight 15,000-liter water tankers to
Dujaila; four of them to supply the refugees with drinking
water and the other four for the Iraqis. UNHCR has also
contacted the World Food Program about providing additional
food stocks to benefit all 12,000 residents of Dujaila.

15. A smaller group of 60 Iranian refugees left their homes
around Al Kut and traveled to a UNHCR transit center, 20
kilometers east of Basrah. The center was badly looted
during the war and has no amenities. UNHCR officials have
visited the refugees there, and strongly urged them to
return to their homes or to go to safer areas away from the
border. It is not known how many may have left the border
transit center.

16. UNHCR says it successfully assisted in the repatriation
of 1,050 Iranian refugees from Iraq until the Iraqi
government suspended the program shortly before the war
began March 20. Since then, Iran has been reluctant to
restart the program because of apparent fears that Iraqis
may `infiltrate' the refugees.

17. UNHCR says it is hesitant to provide assistance to the
refugees camped at the border because the border post north
of Al Amarah and the transit center east of Basrah do not
have any facilities, and are in heavily-mined areas. UNHCR
fears additional assistance might attract other Iranian
refugee families to move to the border encampments.

--------------
RECOMMENDATION
--------------

18. The situation of the Iranian refugees in Iraq, in the
long-term, is more a problem requiring a political than a
humanitarian solution. It is suggested that UNHCR-Geneva
should continue negotiations with Iran to restart the
repatriation of Iranian refugees from Iraq. In the short
term, if UNHCR is unable to persuade the Iranian refugees to
leave their temporary encampments for safer areas away from
the border, UNHCR will need to develop a plan to provide
assistance to the refugee groups without prompting more
refugees to migrate to the encampments.

JONES

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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