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Wiilliamson Interview - 2003-03-24


MR. BORGIDA:
Now joining us, Amanda Williamson, with the International Red Cross here in Washington.

Ms. Williamson, thanks for joining us. These are busy times. Tell us about what the Red Cross is doing in particular with prisoners of war, because that is what we've just been talking about. And then I would like to get some sense of the refugee situation there. But first the prisoners of war issue.

MS. WILLIAMSON:
Of course, it is very concerning to us, the developments in the previous days, to hear that there are prisoners on both sides of the conflict. There is an obligation, under the Geneva Conventions, that prisoners are treated humanely and that the ICRC, the International Red Cross, is able to register and visit those prisoners. And we have begun now to have discussions in Baghdad and in Kuwait in order to try to gain access as soon as possible to the prisoners on both sides.

MR. BORGIDA:
Any sense of how that is going, because we have now had prisoners for 24 hours at least, or so, and I'm sure they would love to see a Red Cross representative?

MS. WILLIAMSON:
Well, every minute for somebody in captivity obviously seems a lifetime. But I must say, we shouldn't read too much into the fact that we haven't had immediate access. There are practical and logistical considerations, too, to bear in mind. We don't read too much into that yet. We just hope that it would be as soon as possible. The contacts have been established. We've made a formal request on both sides and we hope that it will be days rather than weeks because, as you say, every minute is precious in this situation.

MR. BORGIDA:
Absolutely. Now let's talk for a moment, too, about the refugee situation. Because in fact we just did a story on this broadcast about the expected exodus of refugees into Jordan, and it hasn't really happened that much yet, even though camps are there to prepare for the refugees. What can you tell us about the refugees?

MS. WILLIAMSON:
Well, there hasn't been a large-scale population movement as yet. Of course, as you say, we're all very much prepared for it. Our partners in the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement are well positioned in the neighboring regions. It is very difficult to predict whether or not this will happen. It depends on so many factors, and particularly how the conflict continues in length and also if the conflict gets very close to civilian populations. That is usually what makes people decide to flee their homes.

We have seen in the north a small trickle of people coming into northern Iraq, from government-controlled areas. We have been able to bring some relief to them. But, as you say, the large-scale population movement that we have maybe anticipated hasn't happened yet. But we are very much prepared for that case.

MR. BORGIDA:
Any thoughts about why, in 30 seconds or so, why we haven't seen them?

MS. WILLIAMSON:
It's very difficult to say. I think if you have been a refugee in the past, you think twice about doing it again. The Iraqi population had a long time to prepare for this and to get the stocks ready and in place. As I say, it depends very much on how long the conflict continues and how close the fighting comes to the civilian population.

MR. BORGIDA:
We'll keep an eye on the refugees. It's certainly a serious situation. Amanda Williamson, with the International Red Cross here in Washington. Amanda, thanks

MS. WILLIAMSON:
Thank you.

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