Iran: Agencies gear up for possible influx

Report
from The New Humanitarian
Published on 20 Mar 2003
TEHRAN, 20 March (IRIN) - With war in Iraq now underway, international aid agencies in Iran were working hard on Thursday to boost preparedness levels in the event of a refugee influx. About 1.3 million Iraqi refugees crossed the border into Iran during the 1991 Gulf War.
"It is difficult to predict the number of Iraqis coming over into Iran, but we are preparing to provide humanitarian assistance," the spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP), Ramin Rafirasme, told IRIN in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Distribution warehouses are being set up in the southwestern town of Ahvaz in Khuzestan Province and in the western province of Kermanshah, regarded as two possible refugee entry points.

To cope with the initial phases of a potential crisis, when WFP would need to assist refugees, malnourished people and the most vulnerable population groups, the agency is in the process of pre-positioning 32,000 mt of food around the region for the emergency needs of up to two million Iraqis for one month. As of now, the agency has stored enough food to feed more than one million people for one month.

"Sixty percent of the people in Iraq are dependent on Oil-for-Food rations and other essential humanitarian supplies. We estimate that the majority of Iraqis would have about six weeks of food in the event of a disruption of the Oil-for-Food programme," Rafirasme explained.

Under the Oil-for-Food programme, 430,000 mt of food per month is distributed within Iraq. At present, 72 percent of Iraqi oil export proceeds fund the UN-sanctioned humanitarian programme, of which 59 percent is earmarked for the contracting of supplies and equipment by Baghdad for the 15 central and southern governorates, and 13 percent for the three northern governorates, where the UN implements the programme on behalf of the government. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Monday he had ordered the evacuation of UN arms inspectors and humanitarian staff from Iraq and had suspended the Oil-for-Food programme there.

Similarly, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a regional warehouse in Iran containing blankets, tents and non-food items, enabling the agency to pull in resources from neighbouring countries for up to 200,000 people.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) was the first UN agency to airlift relief supplies into Iran to enable it to respond effectively to any humanitarian crisis resulting from an outbreak of war in Iraq. A UNICEF-chartered cargo aircraft carrying 45 mt of emergency supplies landed at Kermanshah airport in western Iran on Tuesday.

UNICEF is focusing on water and sanitation. The emergency supplies will be distributed by partner agencies which will work in refugee camps in Iran, such as the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), the Iranian health ministry and international NGOs, in the event of Iraqi women and children crossing the 1,458-km frontier.

Commenting on the IRCS's preparedness level, Mostafa Mohaghegh, the director-general of the international affairs department of the IRCS, told IRIN: "We have a permanent relief system in place and we are ready to assist refugees."

He noted that the authorities hoped there would be no displacement, adding if a large number of people entered the country, they would need support from the international community. The IRCS currently has some 1,000 buses and 3,000 trucks in place to transport refugees from the border if need be.

Meanwhile, the NGO community is also firming up its preparedness efforts in the event of a possible refugee influx. "We have a three-phase plan starting with assistance to 750 families, then a further 6,000 and another 3,250 in the final phase. But this all depends on population movements," the operations manager for the British NGO, Ockenden International, Stuart Templeton, told IRIN.

The NGO plans to supply cooking sets, kerosene lamps, metal buckets, towels, soap and children's clothing. "One of our concerns is the long break for Nowroz [the Iranian New Year] as the country shuts down for two weeks, and this could affect manufacturing ability for additional supplies needed," he added.
Bruno Jochun, the head of mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres-France in Tehran, told IRIN that his organisation had the capacity to set up medical centres in the event of a crisis, adding that one of its main concerns was the number of malnourished children who could cross into Iran. "It is very difficult to know what will happen and predict numbers. We will build on our capacity after a needs assessment in the field," he added.

Asked to give an account of the British NGO Oxfam's plans, Chris Dyer, its programme coordinator in Tehran, told IRIN that its response to any population movement would be reactive. "We have put in a proposal to assist in public health for up to 180,000 people, and a further 60,000 indirectly through the support of partner organisations," he said.

[ENDS]

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