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UNHCR focus on returning Iraqis

Iraqi woman wait at the Iran border for exiled family members to return.
Iraqi woman wait at the Iran border for exiled family members to return.

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GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- The U.N. refugee agency has prepared a plan for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to return to their war-torn country.

Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Friday the agency had developed a preliminary repatriation and reintegration plan for up to 500,000 Iraqi refugees out of the nearly 900,000 now in the immediate region and beyond.

The plan covers areas such as shelter, legal assistance and transport for returnees. It identifies the conditions that need to be in place before organized returns begin, such as the physical, material and legal safety and well-being of the returnees. Its budget is $118 million over eight months.

Their physical safety includes an end to the violence and insecurity and the establishment of law enforcement. Material safety includes access to things like potable water, food and health services while legal safety includes redress for human rights violations, non-discrimination, and unhindered access to justice.

Before and during the conflict, the agency emphasized caring for Iraqis fleeing to neighboring countries.

Redmond said the agency still is maintaining its current levels of readiness in neighboring countries for any outflow from Iraq, where continuing insecurity and the fragile religious and ethnic tensions could result in new displacement.

The UNHCR is still asking governments to temporarily halt any forced returns of rejected Iraqi asylum seekers and provide protection to Iraqis in the interim.

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