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UNHCR grants Iran 1 million dollar emergency aid for Iraqi refugees

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Teheran/Ahvaz/Suleimanyah (dpa) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has granted Iran 1 million dollars in emergency aid for an anticipated refugee influx from Iraq.

The funds are intended for the first influx of refugees from southern Iraq to the southwestern Khuzestan province in Iran, where the UNHCR has already established an office in the provincial capital Ahvaz.

The transfer was confirmed by the UNHCR in Teheran, the news agency IRNA reported.

The crisis headquarters in the Iranian interior ministry said it was not able to handle the crisis alone and had asked for at least 15 million dollars to provide adequate services to war refugees.

The UNHCR has so far received only a third of the expected donor contributions of 60 million dollars.

Despite attacks on Basra and al-Faw, no refugees have yet arrived at the southwestern border points. The Iraqi Shiite opposition group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) in Ahvaz said Iraqi forces are forcibly preventing people from leaving the two cities for Iran.

There are also no reports so far of refugees from northern Iraq, as the Kurdish autonomous region has established a refugee camp at Penjwin, near the Iranian border, where up to 25,000 Kurdish refugees can find shelter and safety from Iraqi attacks.

Iran has prepared 20 camps in the northern and southwestern border areas with Iraq with a total capacity for 570,000 refugees to be kept in buffer zones either on Iraqi soil or a few kilometres inside Iran.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have also established temporary bases in Ahvaz.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Iran sheltered about 1.3 million Iraqi refugees for four months but this time it wants the U.N. to bear the brunt of the cost.

dpa aa rds fm ao AP-NY-03-20-03 0916EST

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