IOM press briefing note 20 Mar 2003: Iraq
AMMAN - Yesterday IOM launched a shuttle bus service from the Jordanian side of the Iraqi border to transit camps near the town of Ruweished 50 kms inside Jordan to help refugees and third country nationals fleeing Iraq.
According to the Jordanian immigration authorities, 325 Jordanians and 379 foreigners crossed the Karama border yesterday. These included some 150 Jordanian students who traveled with IOM buses to Ruweished, where they picked up public transport.
IOM buses also brought 29 Sudanese nationals to a transit camp for third country nationals (TCNs) in Ruweished set up by the Jordanian Red Crescent with the support of the International Federation of the Red Crescent / Red Cross and IOM. A second nearby camp, run by the Hashemite Charitable Society and UNHCR, is scheduled to start receiving Iraqi refugees today.
As of 3.00pm today, some 179 third country nationals, mostly Sudanese, but including Egyptians, Somalis and Yemenis had arrived in the TCN camp. IOM operations officers at the border reported that nobody else was waiting at the border. Sudanese embassy officials traveled to the border this morning to facilitate their entry into Jordan.
When they crossed the border, IOM buses took them to the TCN camp in Ruweished and, under its mandate to help third country nationals fleeing Iraq, IOM will arrange their onward travel from the camp to Sudan, probably by air from Amman. There are currently ten buses operating the shuttle.
IOM believes that the largest group of TCNs crossing the Karama border into Jordan may eventually be Egyptian. An IOM contingency plan, developed with the Jordanian military and the Jordanian Red Crescent, is to bus them from Ruweished to Aqaba on the Red Sea. In Aqaba, where IOM has an office in the port, they will board an IOM-chartered ferry for the 3-hour journey to Egypt. In Egypt they will be met by the Egyptian authorities and provided with onward transport to their homes.
For other TCNs of other nationalities, IOM will arrange transport to their home countries by air from Amman, or by alternative means / routes, depending on numbers.
In Syria, IOM Damascus will deploy operations staff to Hassake and Abu Kamal tomorrow. It is not yet clear whether Syria's borders will be open to people fleeing Iraq, but we believe that the border will be open to TCNs. It is also not yet clear as to where TCNs would stay pending their departure to their home countries with IOM, probably by air from Damascus. But a UNHCR transit camp at El Hol, originally intended for both refugees and TCNs, is reportedly now ready to receive up to 10,000 people. A second camp, run by the Syrian Red Crescent, and exclusively for TCNs, is also under discussion.
In Iran, the other country likely to attract a significant outflow of people, refugees and TCNs crossing the border will be brought to transit camps by BAFIA, the Iranian immigration dept. IOM will identify TCNs in the camps and provide onward air transport to their home countries from Tehran.
IOM also has operations staff on standby in Kuwait, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but expects that, due to the direction of the war, the outflow of people across these borders will be much smaller than into the countries listed above.