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Iraqis at Saudi refugee camp anxious to return home

Xinhuanet 2003-04-28 23:06:58

ĦĦĦĦRAFHA, Saudi-Iraqi Border, April 28 (Xinhuanet) -- "You outsiders will never understand the true feelings of the refugees who have lived in exile for 12 years. With Iraq war coming to an end, we areanxious to return to Iraq when security is guaranteed," said 40-year-old Saad Aziz, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

ĦĦĦĦ"It is like living in jail here without any hope. We have been forgotten," the Shiite Muslim from southern Iraq living at an enclosed Saudi refugee camp, just 10 km from the Saudi-Iraqi border, told Xinhua.

ĦĦĦĦSaad Aziz is among one of the 33,000 people who fled to the campnear the northern Saudi border town of Rafha after the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi troops crushed a Shiite uprising sparked by US callsfor Iraqis to overthrow President Saddam Hussein.

ĦĦĦĦAlthough over 25,000 refugees have now been resettled in other countries and some 3,300 returned to Iraq over the years, some 5,200 still remain in the barren desert camp, which is ringed by barbed wire and security fences, unable to find a host country.

ĦĦĦĦ"We don't want to stay in this desert camp. Of course, we hope to go back to Iraq as soon as possible. But we have no money, and we demand fair compensation and an appropriate assistance to start a new life in Iraq," said Najim al-Derawi, a group leader of the refugees.

ĦĦĦĦStanding beside Najim, two young men were holding a banner: "No comeback without our justice. The Iraqi regime has expropriated allour property in Iraq."

ĦĦĦĦSamer Haddadin, director at the Rafha camp office of the UN HighCommissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Xinhua that so far some 300Iraqi refugees have submitted applications for returning home. "We will start to process the applications immediately. But it is difficult to say when these refugees will leave, maybe within weeks."

ĦĦĦĦ"Right now, the UNHCR does not encourage the refugees to return home at the moment. We have to guarantee their safety, security anddignity. A UNHCR team of experts will assess the security situationin Iraq," he added.

ĦĦĦĦHe also urged the international community to provide more assistance to the refugees. "Living in a refugee camp is not like going to picnic in the desert at the weekends. It means suffering,"he noted.

ĦĦĦĦIn the past 12 years, the Saudi government has spent 5 billion Saudi riyals (some 1.3 billion US dollars) to feed, clothe, house and provide medical treatment for the Iraqi refugees. By only providing the refugees food alone will cost 400,000 dollars per day.

ĦĦĦĦThe Saudi government has established a school and a 64-staff medical center for the refugees. Every housing unit for the refugees has a television, with electricity, sewage system, heatingin winter and air-conditioning in summer.

ĦĦĦĦIn addition, every male refugee gets 300 riyals (about 80 dollars) in pocket money every three months, while women get 350 riyals.

ĦĦĦĦHowever, the refugees are not allowed to work outside the camp. Camp officials rotate the 300 jobs available to refugees as cleaners, teachers or drivers every six months.

ĦĦĦĦAlthough the refugees are provided with basic food, clothing andhousing units, none of this could alter the psychological trauma ofbeing a refugee. Some 1,800 refugees are single men over the age of19 who can not marry, study or work... Some have suffered from depression and begun to despair of ever living a normal life.

ĦĦĦĦCamp psychiatrist Hisham Zamka told Xinhua that he often gave treatment to the single men who were under most pressure and there were several cases of attempting to commit suicide. "They can not see any hope. This is a big problem."

ĦĦĦĦAn art exhibition created by some of the camp's 1,400 children sends the same somber message. One watercolor entitled "cry for my country" shows a palm tree with a big tearing eye. Art teacher Abdullah Amir said the watercolor was created by a 13-year-old boy named Ehsam Kate and the palm tree symbols Iraq.

ĦĦĦĦBefore reporters leaving the refugee camp, a group of nine-year-old boys recited a poem, expressing their feelings: "We thank the Saudi people for their hospitality. We were born in Rafha and Rafhawill remain in our hearts for ever; We could only learn about Iraq through teacher's description. We are eager to return to our motherland and live like a free man." Enditem

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