War in Iraq not inevitable but humanitarian preparedness crucial – UN agency

War in Iraq not inevitable but humanitarian preparedness crucial – UN agency

UNHCR Ruud Lubbers (c) in Darshia, Iran
The head of the United Nations refugee agency has wrapped up his trip to Iran, stressing that while a war against Iraq is not inevitable, it is important that governments and the humanitarian community work to be prepared for the possibility, an agency spokesman said today.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers yesterday visited possible new campsites for Iraqis at Yazde-no and Darshia, in the west of Iran, and noted that the Government has been exemplary in its efforts to handle a possible Iraqi influx, spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva.

The High Commissioner saw land being cleared for camps, as well as roads and other facilities being prepared. Iranian officials told Mr. Lubbers that they expect to have three sites ready in a short time. In all, seven sites are currently under preparation, out of 10 planned and each is designed to accommodate about 20,000 people, according to Mr. Redmond.

Iran has a long record of hosting Iraqi refugees and currently shelters more than 202,000 – half the world's recognized Iraqi refugee population. Mr. Redmond said the UN agency plans to support the Iranian Government and the Iranian Red Crescent in their humanitarian work, and is currently shipping relief items to Ahwaz as part of that effort.

During his two-day mission in Iran, Mr. Lubbers met President Mohammed Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrzai and Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, as well as senior provincial and Red Crescent officials.

In addition to Iran, Mr. Lubbers' 10-day trip to the region – his fourth since taking office in early 2001 – included visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan.