Prominent NGOs Set To Meet In October

RIYADH, 26 August 2003 — An official at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a meeting of a group of prominent non-governmental organizations operating in the six Gulf states including Saudi Arabia will be held on Oct. 7 this year to develop a comprehensive strategy for regional stockpiling of humanitarian relief materials and to discuss the reconstruction of war-torn Iraq.

“This two-day meeting of NGOs will set the agenda for creating sufficient reserve of humanitarian supplies in the region because the Gulf region, and the whole Middle East, has seen growing numbers of refugees,” said Mamoon Muhsen, external affairs officer at the local UNHCR office. There are around 15 million Muslim refugees mostly living in poor nations in the region.

“The UNHCR estimates that some one million Iraqi refugees and exiles, up to 500,000 of them from Iran, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, might seek agency assistance to return home in the near future,” said Muhsen, adding that the forthcoming meeting of the NGOs will also discuss the establishment of a regional training center, where workers will be trained for emergency situations like war and to carry out relief operations in risky circumstances.

“The UNHCR has set up a Gulf NGO Network with a mandate to coordinate efforts with this UN agency in times of conflict and emergency situations,” he said.

The 17-member Gulf NGO Network seeks to cooperate with international agencies like the UNHCR to solve problems in conflict situations.

Muhsen said several NGOs like the Prince Sultan Humanitarian Society, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Saudi Red Crescent Society, the Zayed Foundation of the UAE, Human Appeal International, Mohammad Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Est., the Qatar Charitable Society, the Sheikh Eid Establishment, the Islah Society, the Zakat House of Kuwait and Oman Charitable Organization have been invited to the meeting.

The UNHCR said the violence in Iraq, especially the bombing of the Baghdad-based UN headquarters last week, delayed the repatriation process of Iraqi refugees from Rafha camp. The third batch of 296 Iraqi refugees, who left the Kingdom last Tuesday, were stranded on the border. But the UNHCR ruled out any further delay in the implementation of the plan, saying all 868 refugees will be sent back to Iraq in the first phase.

The UN agency said the fourth batch, of 350 Iraqi refugees, will leave Saudi Arabia on Aug. 31. The UNHCR expects more than 3,600 of the remaining 5,200 refugees in Rafha to be repatriated before the end of the year. The Rafha camp was built 12 years ago and once sheltered some 33,000 Iraqi refugees, many of them men who had fled Iraq at the end of the 1991 Gulf War following an uprising in south Iraq that was brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s army.

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