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Iran prepares for possible Iraqi refugee influx

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran is setting up 19 camps along its border with Iraq to shelter refugees in the event of a military strike on its western neighbour, a senior government official was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Iran opposes any U.S. attack on Iraq and is watching with great unease the situation across its border while repeatedly calling on Iraq to comply with United Nations' resolutions on disarmament.

"All the camps have been selected to be set up between 500 metres (yards) to 10 km (6 miles) from the border strip," the Asia newspaper quoted Deputy Interior Minister, Ahmad Hosseini, as saying.

The Interior Ministry has called on relief organisations to provide emergency aid for a possible 800,000 refugees, Hosseini said.

The camps will be distributed along five Iranian provinces bordering Iraq, he said.

Two of them will be located in Iran's Kurdistan province which borders the Kurd-controlled area of northern Iraq which slipped from Baghdad's control after the 1991 Gulf War and is now protected by a U.S. and British-enforced no fly zone.

The United Nations has predicted a large refugee problem in the event of war on Iraq with as many as 900,000 Iraqis heading for neighbouring countries.

Iran, which already hosts around two million Afghan refugees as well as several thousand Iraqis displaced during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, is loathe to accept more refugees.

"The main principle will be to help the refugees inside Iraqi soil but in case of any security concerns, we are ready with these 19 camps," Hosseini said.

Iran's proposed refugee policy mirrors the one it adopted during the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan last year when it set up a pair of camps just inside Afghan territory to accommodate people fleeing the fighting there.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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