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UNHCR Prepares for Possible Increase of Iraqi Refugees - 2002-10-04


The United Nations refugee agency has developed contingency plans for dealing with a potential flood of Iraqi refugees, in case there is a U.S.-led military attack on Iraq. But the agency's head says he is still hopeful diplomats can avoid a crisis.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers says his agency must prepare for any possible war in Iraq. He says he hopes a resumption of arms inspections will avert a conflict. If not, he says, the U.N. refugee agency will be faced with aiding large numbers of people.

"We do contingency planning," Mr. Lubbers explained. "It's between the tens-of-thousands and a million, but I certainly am not giving you specific figures and numbers. We are going in the wrong direction, if we visualize emergency as probability. From there, it is only one step that it is going to happen. So, I am not favoring that."

During the 1991 Gulf War, 1.5 million Iraqis fled to, or passed through, Jordan.

Concluding an annual meeting on refugee issues, Mr. Lubbers said his agency is still short $100 million for its aid programs for refugees worldwide.

"What we have seen this year, this Afghan program is reasonably well-funded," he said. " We still need some money, but it is coming. But we fear that for that reason, the funding of the other activities is lagging somewhat behind, and it is very difficult to explain to other parts of the world, particularly Africa, that we have to do less, because we have to do more for the Afghans."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says Afghanistan has witnessed a successful repatriation of some two million refugees, who have returned home over the past six months. But going home is not enough, he says. The former refugees need to be reintegrated into their society, and that costs money.

Mr. Lubbers added that smaller repatriation projects will start in Angola and Sri Lanka, where peace has returned after years of conflict.

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