Iraq

Iran: Tehran to host fewer Iraqi refugees if conflict begins

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ANKARA, 27 January (IRIN) - Iran has reduced the number of refugees it intends to host in case of a US-led strike against Iraq to 200,000 people, the state news agency IRNA quoted an interior ministry official as saying on Sunday. These refugees would be cared for in just 10 camps. Iran has earlier stated it was planning to establish a total of 19 camps along the border.
"Our policy is the complete closure of borders with Iraq, but if the lives of Iraqis are really in danger, we have plans to set up 10 camps for 20,000 people each" on the border between the two countries," Ahmad Hosseini, the head of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Agency (BAFIA), was quoted as saying at a press conference in Tehran.

During the current crisis in Afghanistan, Tehran has primarily attempted to assist Afghan refugees at camps just across its border, rather than allow them into Iran. The country, which is already host to about 1.9 million refugees from Afghanistan, argues it does not have the resources to accept another huge foreign influx. Most of the Afghan refugees arrived following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

"In case of an American attack against Iraq, we think there will be mostly people displaced within the country and that few refugees will head towards our borders," Hosseini added.

Humanitarian sources in Ankara told IRIN that Sunday's statement indicated that Tehran was now preparing to host far fewer refugees than originally thought, and that this could impact on contingency planning for a possible humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

Hosseini said Iran had not allocated a budget to help potential refugees, but "was ready to facilitate the work of humanitarian organisations and transit international aid across the Iranian border to displaced Iraqis and refugees".

Earlier estimates suggested Tehran was planning for 500 - 600,000 refugees occupying 19 border camps. Up to a million refugees could head for Iran in the event of widespread conflict in Iraq.

In May and June 1991 during the last Gulf War, around one million Iraqis - mainly Kurds from the north and Shiites from the south - fled to Iran. According to government figures, 202, 000 registered Iraqi nationals currently live in Iran.

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