The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has launched a shuttle bus service from the Jordanian side of the Iraqi border to transit camps near the town of Ruweished, located 50 km inside Jordan, to help refugees and Third Country Nationals (TCNs) fleeing Iraq, IOM announced in a statement issued in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Thursday.
At 1500 local time, 179 Third Country Nationals (TCNs), mostly Sudanese, had arrived in Jordan, with no additional people waiting to cross the border, IOM spokesman Christopher Lom told a news conference in Amman on Thursday.
"Many people may be watching and waiting to see how severe any conflict might become and how their food stores are holding out," added Peter Kessler, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Kessler recalled that the majority of the 1.8 million refugees who fled Iraq in 1991 only did so in March, two months after the liberation of Kuwait, when Iraqi rebellions had been crushed by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein.
IOM is mandated to facilitate the return of TCNs to their country of origin, while the Jordanian government, in collaboration with UNHCR, is responsible for the hosting of refugees. High winds have hindered progress in completing the Ruweished camps - one for refugees, one for TCNs - and electrical installations had not been completed by Thursday. However, food, water, and tents for shelter were available in sufficient supply. The TCN camp has been set up by the Jordanian Red Crescent with the support of the International Federation of
the Red Crescent/Red Cross and IOM. A second camp, for refugees, is being run by the Hashemite Charitable Society and UNHCR.
In its statement, IOM said it believed that the largest group of TCNs crossing the Karama border into Jordan may eventually be Egyptian. Under an IOM contingency plan, developed with the Jordanian military and the Jordanian Red Crescent, the TCNs would be transported by bus from Ruweished to Aqaba on the Red Sea. In Aqaba, where IOM has an office at the port, they would board an IOM-chartered ferry for the three-hour journey to Egypt. Once there, they would be met by Egyptian authorities and provided with onward transport to their homes.
In Syria, IOM Damascus plans to deploy operations staff to Hassake and Abu Kamal on Friday. Although it was not yet clear whether Syria's borders would be open to people fleeing Iraq, IOM said it believed that the border would be open to TCNs. IOM added that it was also not yet clear as to where TCNs would stay pending their departure to their home countries with IOM, although most likely by air from Damascus. However, a UNHCR transit camp at El Hol, originally intended for both refugees and TCNs, is reportedly ready to receive up to 10,000 people. A second camp, run by the Syrian Red Crescent, and exclusively for TCNs, is also under discussion.
In Iran, the other country IOM believes likely to attract a significant outflow of people, refugees and TCNs crossing the border will be brought to transit camps by BAFIA, the Iranian immigration department. IOM will identify TCNs in the camps and provide onward air transport from Tehran to their home countries.
IOM said it also had operations staff on standby in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, but that it expected, due to the direction of the war, the outflow of people across these borders would be much smaller than into Jordan, Syria and Iran.