A spokesman for the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday called for the right of return for 5,000 Iraqi refugees living in camps in Saudi Arabia, adding that his organisation was increasingly concerned that demonstrations in the camp could get out of hand unless the refugees' demands were met.
Mohammed Adar, the head of the UNHCR's Basra office, told IRIN that the refugees were holding daily demonstrations outside the agency's office in the camp, demanding that they be allowed to return to Iraq. He said the demonstrations had been entirely peaceful so far, but feared what might happen if the refugees' frustrations were allowed to escalate.
"Although we are advising refugees in general against return to Iraq, the refugees in Saudi Arabia have signed a waiver assuming full responsibility for their return, so, as far as we are concerned, it's fine for them to go back."
Adar said the Saudi government was blocking their return pending permission from United States authorities in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
The refugees have been living in a closed camp in Saudi Arabia since the first Gulf War and are believed to comprise soldiers who crossed the border to Saudi Arabia during their army's retreat from Kuwait in 1991.
"These people are mostly young men who have been living in a closed camp for more than a decade - they just want to go home, get married and get on with their lives, and they should be allowed to go," said Adar.
UNHCR has repeatedly stated in recent weeks that it considers conditions in Iraq to be unsuitable for the return of refugees, but a senior UNHCR delegation currently in Baghdad is expected to lobby the US authorities there to allow the return of those in Saudi Arabia.
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