Despite insecurity in their homeland, some 630 additional Iraqi refugees returned from camps in Iran and Saudi Arabia over the last two days with the help of the UN refugee agency, some of them after more than two decades in exile.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is not encouraging anyone to go back to Iraq, only facilitating the repatriation of those people who are desperate to return despite the danger and precarious humanitarian and economic situation in the country, spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today.
A convoy of 330 refugees arrived in southern Iraq today from Saudi Arabia, the fourteenth group of Iraqis to leave Rafha refugee camp where they had lived for nearly 13 years, bringing the total to 4,500 since UNHCR began facilitating returns from there in July.
The refugees were met at the Iraq-Kuwait border by personnel from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), who escorted them into Basra where UNHCR national staff gave them a one-month's supply of food aid and other items, including blankets, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, and soap. Those in need also got tents.
On Monday, 300 Iraqis returned from camps in Iran, where some had been exiled for more than two decades. They were received by CPA personnel who took them to Basra where they received the usual assistance package and tents. It was the fourth convoy to leave Iran since facilitated returns started in late November. More than 800 Iraqis have now returned from Iran.
This latest convoy occurred amidst a series of difficulties. In addition to ongoing security concerns in Iraq, available trucks in Iran were scarce due to the massive earthquake relief efforts in Bam.