November 29th, 2007 04:08 EST
Iraqis returning from Syria
A convoy of buses carrying an estimated 800 Iraqis has left the Syrian capital of Damascus and crossed the border on its way to Baghdad, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which said most are returning because their resources are exhausted.
Staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the Al Tanf border point saw at least 15 buses, each carrying 30 to 35 people, pass through Iraq immigration later Tuesday and said they had heard that others had arrived earlier. The agency planned to give the refugees a return package, but has not been assisting in the operation and continues to raise concern about the situation in Iraq.
UNHCR protection officers interviewed many of the returnee families boarding buses in Damascus and most said they were going back to Iraq because they had run out of money and could no longer afford to stay in Syria, which is hosting more than 1.4 million Iraqi refugees, the agency said in a news release. Some said they wanted to check out the situation in Iraq amid reports of improved security across the border.
The agency said its figures suggest that only 14 per cent of Iraqi refugees are returning because of improved security conditions, while some 70 per cent 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.
“For the first time some Iraqi refugees are considering returning to Iraq,” said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR representative in Syria, before adding: “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.”
During the past week, the UNHCR estimates that around 600 Iraqis have left Syria each day this week, although not all are refugees. The Iraqi Government, meanwhile, says that 45,000 Iraqis have returned from Syria in October.
The agency is continuing to help many of those remaining in Syria. It plans next month to provide around 7,000 families with financial support and distribute food for some 51,000 people others, while providing subsidized health care to Iraq refugees who seek it.