Syria + 1 more

Iran says no sign of major Iraqi refugee movements

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TEHRAN/DAMASCUS, (Reuters) - Iran said on Saturday there was no sign of any major Iraqi refugee movements from the U.S.-led war against Baghdad and that it would keep its border closed unless people were in danger.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said up to 600,000 Iraqi refugees could flee during the war, with about half heading for Iran. Others were likely to go to Syria, Turkey or Jordan.

Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Ahmad Hosseini said only about 130 families had arrived along Iran's western border.

"Our borders are closed to them, but they have not asked for entry," Hosseini told a news conference.

"But if there are any (major refugee movements), our policy is to keep our borders closed unless we recognise that the lives of people are in danger," he said.

Hosseini said Iran could rebuild some of about 30 camps used in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War that provided sanctuary to 1.3 million Iraqis, mostly Kurds from northern Iraq.

Iran, which still hosts some 200,000 Iraqis from that conflict and more than two million Afghans who fled war in their homeland to the east, has expressed irritation at having to foot the bill for another refugee influx.

"We have not allocated any budget to take care of refugees of this war," said Hosseini.

He said the UNHCR had brought in some $6 million worth of equipment, which was being stocked in warehouses in southern and western parts of Iran.

The U.N. World Food Programme was setting up warehouses in the southwestern town of Ahvaz and in the northwestern border province of Kermanshah.

In Damascus, relief workers and diplomats said a large number of refugees could head for Syria if Turkey deployed troops in northern Iraq.

Earlier on Saturday, Turkey denied reports it had sent over 1,000 troops into northern Iraq as part of plans to control war refugees and prevent any "terrorist activity".

"So far only three families have crossed (into Syria). We are monitoring the situation," UNHCR official Ajmal Khybari told Reuters.

"Refugee movement depends on the modality of military operations... with the war moving toward the populated areas, there could be a big increase in refugee influx toward Syria," said Khybari.

International aid workers have said about 100,000 Iraqis could seek refuge in Syria.

Property agents in Damascus say a number of well-off Iraqis have sought temporary accommodation in recent weeks.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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