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Iran ready to help Iraqi refugees despite lack of support

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Teheran (dpa) - Iran is ready to assists Iraqi refugees despite lack of international support, the Teheran media reported Thursday.

President Mohammad Khatami promised his French counterpart in a phone call Wednesday Iran would assist Iraqi refugees in the event of war, but reiterated need for coordination.

Khatami's promise came after a group of Iranian parliamentarians voiced harsh criticism over lack of international contingency plans for a possible refugee influx from Iraq.

Iran is considered one of the main destinations of Iraqi refugees because of its 1,458-kilometre border with Iraq.

But it already has plenty of problems with a self-estimated 2.4 million Afghan refugees and 200,000 Iraqi refugees (from the first Gulf war in 1991) who have yet to be repatriated.

Having closed all its borders to Iraq, the Iranian interior ministry demands a bigger share of international aid to shelter Iraqi refugees in buffer zones in Iraq or on no-man's land border areas.

But United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers indicated last week in Teheran that UNHCR funding may fall short as it has received only one third of the planned initial donor contribution of 60 million dollars.

The UNHCR has already established offices in border areas in northwestern and southwestern Iran, and both Iran and the UNHCR predict an influx of at most 250,000 refugees, although preparations have been made for almost 570,000.

Six camps, including one for transit, with a capacity of 370,000 are to be established by the interior ministry in the southwestern Khuzestan province where the main influx of refugees is expected.

Another 100,000 refugees would be sheltered within two camps in the western province of Ilam. Almost 100,000 are planned to be accommodated in the three northwestern provinces of Kermanshah, Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan where 14 camps are to be erected.

Besides the UNHCR, the children's fund UNICEF and the World Food Programme are also to set up border area facilities to render food and medical services. dpa fm sc

AP-NY-03-13-03 0843EST

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