868 Iraqis To Be Sent Home From Rafha Camp

RIYADH, 21 July 2003 — A group of 868 Iraqi refugees currently living in Rafha camp, northwest of Riyadh, will be repatriated in the next few as part of the resettlement program launched by the Riyadh-based chapter of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in cooperation with the Saudi government. The refugees have been living in Rafha camp since the 1991 Gulf War.

Mamoon Muhsen, external affairs officer at the local UNHCR office, told Arab News yesterday the 868 refugees, who wish to return to Iraq, formed part of the remaining 2,818 Iraqi refugees at Rafha camp. “The process of registration and coordination with the concerned parties including the US, British and Kuwaiti sides have been completed and now the refugees are waiting to leave for Iraq any moment,” he said.

The refugees are from among the 93,000 Iraqi prisoners of war brought into the Kingdom by the coalition forces following the 1991 Gulf War. Some 60,000 returned to Iraq at the time in an exchange of POWs accord which included soldiers and non-commissioned officers. The remaining 31,828 refugees were left behind at Rafha camp. But their number grew and nearly 4,000 new births were reported from the camp.

The Kingdom looked after the refugees, so far spending nearly SR5 billion on basic amenities for them. The Ministry of Defense and Aviation has been providing protection to the Rafha camp besides ensuring the supply of food. The ministry has been spending SR32,000 per refugee annually, the highest spending for refugee camps in the world.

“The UNHCR is currently not encouraging the repatriation of Iraqi refugees to their homeland because of the volatile situation in Iraq, where there is no stable government,” Muhsen said. “Iraqi civilians are facing hardship, and there is no security and not enough to meet basic requirements like power, food and water.” But he said the UN agency was nonetheless facilitating the departure of the refugees.”

The UN official said the group would return to the Iraqi city of Basra by bus under security escorts from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. UNHCR officials will also accompany the convoys and will help and supervise the repatriation process. He praised the Kingdom’s continuing efforts in the repatriation program. A report entitled “UNHCR in Saudi Arabia” said the Kingdom looked after the Iraqi refugees beyond the call of duty as defined by the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Many Saudi government agencies have been helping the UNHCR to ensure success of the resettlement plan. The Ministry of the Interior has been operating an administrative system by setting up a civil defense wing.

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