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At least 25,000 refugees returned to Iraq since September - Iraqi Red Crescent.

Byline: The Daily Star

Summary: Between 25,000 and 28,000 Iraqi refugees have returned to Iraq since mid-September, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization said in its latest report issued Monday, citing improved security as the main factor.The numbers from the independent agency are lower than those given by the Iraqi government, which estimates as many as 60,000 refugees.

Between 25,000 and 28,000 Iraqi refugees have returned to Iraq since mid-September, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization said in its latest report issued Monday, citing improved security as the main factor.

The numbers from the independent agency are lower than those given by the Iraqi government, which estimates as many as 60,000 refugees have made the homeward trip across the border in the past few months.

The Red Crescent said in its report that "a significant number" of refugees began to return from Syria in September and October, with the flow decreasing in November.

Of the returnees, the Red Crescent estimates that 19,000 to 21,500 headed to Baghdad and between 6,000 and 6,500 to Iraq's 17 other provinces.

"In Iraq, the security situation improved as a result of law enforcement, especially in Baghdad and other governates," the report said.

"Consequently, a significant number of externally displaced returned to Iraq starting mid-September and through October ... The flow of returnees gradually decreased during November," it said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 4.2 million Iraqis have been displaced since the US-led invasion of March 2003, including 750,000 who found refuge in Jordan, 1.4 million in Syria and about two million elsewhere in Iraq.

The UNHCR has cautioned that it believes the security situation in Iraq is not yet stable enough to encourage a mass return of refugees.

The Red Crescent report said that some of the refugees had returned to find their homes occupied, leading to an increase in the number of internally displaced people in Baghdad in September and October. It did not give figures.

Recent fighting has also lead to internal displacement. Hundreds of Iraqis displaced by fierce battles between Al-Qaeda militants and US and Iraqi security forces began receiving humanitarian aid on Monday at a camp set up on Baghdad's southern outskirts.

Red Crescent teams, the report said, collected the data from transport companies and relevant ministries and government departments.

The UNHCR, meanwhile, said in a statement on its Web site that a survey in Syria of 100 Iraqi families found that most of those returning do so because they are running out of money and resources or because their visas have expired.

Only 14 percent of Iraqi refugees are returning because of improved security conditions, it said.

"Around 70 percent say they are leaving because of tougher visa regulations and because they are not allowed to work and can no longer afford to stay in Syria," the statement said.

UNHCR has not been assisting in the operation and remains concerned about the situation in Iraq, it added.

"The UNHCR is not in a position to recommend return at this time but recognizes the Iraq government's effort to support people who are returning," said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR representative in Syria.

Iraqi and US commanders attribute the sharp drop in sectarian violence to a surge in US troop numbers, the formation by ordinary Iraqis of anti-Al Qaeda fronts and the decision in August by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to call a halt to the activities of his Mehdi Army militia.

Last week, the Iraqi government provided a fleet of buses to fetch Iraqis from Damascus, which returned to Baghdad with around 375 refugees. Each family was given a sum of 1 million dinars ($800 ) to assist their resettlement.

Even with the large migration of refugees back to Iraq, the UN World Food Program said Monday it is seeking to double food distribution to tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan despite a current funding shortfall. - Agencies

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Dec 4, 2007
Words:680
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