BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq and the United Nations on Tuesday launched an emergency plan to assist returning refugees, as the Baghdad government appealed to Iraqis living in Europe not to join the homeward flow yet.
The first phase of the Rapid Response Plan, UN special representative in Iraq Staffan de Mistura told a news conference in Baghdad, aims to assist 5,000 families, or around 30,000 people, with an immediate relief package.
"The response can be expanded to assist an increased number of returnees or other vulnerable groups," he said.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner (UNHCR) had joined the effort even though it believed the security situation in Iraq is still too fragile for a widescale homecoming, Mistura said.
The UNHCR, he added, had chipped in three experts and 11 million dollars towards the plan.
Iraq‘s Immigration and Refugees Minister Abdel Samad Rahman Sultan said that for its part the government had allocated 100 million dollars to assist returning refugees in re-establishing their lives.
Sultan put the number of returnees at 40,000 refugees from neighbouring countries and 10,000 Internally Displaced People, but acknowledged that there are no real way of arriving at an accurate figure.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Organisation on Monday said between 25,000 and 28,000 Iraqi refugees had come home from Syria since mid-September, giving the first independent assessment of the extent of the reverse migration.
"We are trying to put in place an effective mechanism so that we can get accurate information, but it is very difficult," Sultan said.
He added that the Iraqi government had been in touch with Iraqis living and working in European countries such as Denmark and Sweden and had urged them to stay where they are for now instead of adding to the increasing flow of returnees.
"We have to reach memorandums of understanding with the governments of these countries before those living there return," he said. "Some of them have been living in these countries for 25 years.
"UN envoy Mistura said the UNHCR was not in favour "a massive return at all."