In a first under new accord, UN refugee agency helps Iranians repatriate from Iraq
The first group of 125 refugees returning to Iran under the agency’s auspices went home on Saturday, according to Rupert Colville. “UNHCR is very pleased to see this repatriation finally underway,” he said. “We expect a second convoy in the coming days.”
Of the approximately 8,000 individuals who have applied to repatriate from Iraq under UNHCR’s voluntary programme, Iran has approved the applications of 480 families.
Describing the journey of the first group of returnees, Mr. Colville said they spent the night in the southern Iraqi city of Basra before proceeding to the Al Shalamshah/Khosravi border crossing on Saturday morning. “Once inside Iran, they were met by officials of Iran’s Bureau for Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs and transported to a nearby transit camp,” he said, noting that those with no property or relatives in the country would be able to stay at the camp until they found a more permanent destination.
UNHCR estimates that some 23,000 Iranian refugees have been in Iraq since the 1980-1988 Iran/Iraq War, including about 16,000 ethnic Kurds living either in the Al-Tash refugee camp or close to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. A further 7,000 Iranian Arabs live in southern Iraq. “Most have been living in well-equipped camps, which have become de facto 'villages,’” Mr. Colville explained.
Voluntary repatriation from Iran to Iraq has been underway for several years now. Between 1994 and the end of this June, some 27,000 Iraqi Arabs returned to Iraq from Iran, while from 1999 until the present, over 16,000 Iraqi Kurds returned. According to Iranian government figures, there are approximately 220,000 Iraqis in Iran.
“Although no official amnesty for the Iraq caseload has been announced, the Iranian authorities have verbally assured both the returnees – during meetings with them in Iraq – and UNHCR that, except for breaches of the common law, no legal action will be taken against any returnees,” Mr. Colville said.