Accessibility links

Breaking News

Explosion Jeopardizes UN Repatriation Efforts for Iraqi Refugees - 2003-08-19

The explosion at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad has forced the organization's refugee agency to postpone repatriation of 300 Iraqi refugees from Saudi Arabia. The refugees were to have been taken to Basra.

UNHCR spokesman, Peter Kessler told VOA his agency has decided that the situation is too dangerous for the Iraqi refugees to return home now.

He said even Basra, which has been relatively safe, has recently been the target of several attacks. He said there are signs of organized attacks in Iraq in recent weeks which cannot be ignored.

"Just in the last days in Basra in southern Iraq, a bomb was exploded next to coalition forces. Rock-throwing Iraqis have expanded their intimidation of U.N. convoys also in southern Iraq. And, following today's attack on the U.N. headquarters building in Baghdad, we are terribly concerned for the safety of all our staff in the country and do urgently believe the coalition forces must work better to ensure security," Mr. Kessler said.

Mr. Kessler said he has no idea when the repatriation of Iraqis will resume.

There are about 4,700 Iraqi refugees in Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp. Many deserted from the army or were taken as prisoners of war during the first Gulf War. Mr. Kessler said most of these men are eager to return home.

In another development in Baghdad, UNHCR's Kris Janowski said more than 8,000 Palestinian refugees were evicted from their homes by landlords who want higher rents or a return of their property. He said the Palestinians received special treatment under Saddam Hussein.

"There have been cases of hostility, of people being unceremoniously kicked out of their housing and there has been some resentment toward the Palestinians who are seen as the darlings of the regime. The regime paid their rent and the regime subsidized them. So, that might have aroused some envy and caused some resentment," Mr. Janowski said.

Mr. Janowski said those Palestinian refugees will now need help.