140 Iraqi refugees in Syria head home

October 22, 2008 - 0:0

Some 140 Iraqi refugees living in Syria headed home Wednesday on a free trip organized by the Iraqi government. Many cited improved security in Iraq and dwindling savings as reasons for their return.

The refugees boarded a chartered Iraqi Airways flight to take them to Baghdad, where they will receive an official reception at the airport. The Iraqi Embassy says it is planning several such trips in the coming weeks.
It was the first such trip since last November, when the embassy organized similar free convoys. Hundreds of refugees went back at the time as the situation improved amid a U.S. troop increase and the decision by former Sunni insurgents to turn against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
An official at the Iraqi Embassy, Adnan al-Shourifi, said Wednesday's trip - which was organized for the first time in cooperation with the UN agency for refugees - reflects international recognition of the improved security situation in Iraq.
He urged all refugees to return home to take part in rebuilding their country, saying they will be given cash and other incentives.
Ayman Gharabiyah, a UNHCR official, said most of the Iraqis were returning home because their savings have run out.
Each returning family, he said, will receive around $850 in cash along with an extra monthly payment of $145 for the next six months. The returnees would also get their houses and jobs back, he added.
Hamid al-Dulaimi, a 50-year-old who has been living in Syria for the last two years, was returning with his wife, three children and mother.
""But if I find the security situation in Iraq is still bad, I will be back here,"" he said.
Syria is home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who fled the violence in their country after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.
The government says their influx has strained the country's education, health and housing systems, pushing authorities to tighten visa requirements and to call for international assistance.
Damascus has said the cost of the Iraqi refugees' stay in Syria is estimated at $1.6 billion per year.
(Source: victoriaadvocte.com)