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Displaced Iraqis returning to northern areas as UN steps up relief effort

Displaced Iraqis returning to northern areas as UN steps up relief effort

While the United Nations steps up its relief effort in various parts of Iraq, people displaced from their homes have been returning to some of the country's northern governorates, a spokesman for the world body reported today.

"In the north of Iraq, the number of people returning to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah is increasing and shops re-opening," David Wimhurst told the press in Amman. He added that others are still leaving Dahuk.

Responding to the anticipated flow of Iraqis, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has dispatched experienced emergency officers to monitor borders, establish offices, and strengthen the agency's existing operations in the region, according to spokesman Peter Kessler.

"The Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization/UNHCR camp at Ruwaished can now accommodate up to 2,000 refugees," he said, adding that five metric tons of high-energy biscuits and 1,000 ready-to-eat rations are in stock.

Meanwhile, amid reports of burning oil wells in southern Iraq, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is preparing a study of the key environmental issues that will have to be faced in the post-conflict humanitarian and reconstruction effort.

In another development, Geoffrey Keele, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the agency is now involved in an operation to help safeguard the welfare of extremely vulnerable children in institutions in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Yesterday was Eid Naroos, the Festival of Spring, a holiday that in Iraq is particularly associated with children and a time of re-birth. UNICEF national staff in Baghdad delivered supplies of rice, flour, high-protein biscuits and tinned meat to four institutions in central Baghdad housing up to 800 children. UNICEF staff who visited the homes reported that the children were clean and well kept, but “very disturbed” by what was happening.

"When staff asked the children what they wanted, it is not perhaps surprising that the children asked for the bombing to stop," Mr. Keele said.

Responding to the particular suffering of children during wartime, UNICEF has procured and positioned a total of $9.1 million in health, water, and nutrition supplies in Iran, Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan. In addition, two trucks containing essential medicines and water purification tablets have arrived in Baghdad from Jordan.