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Nearly 4.5 million displaced and refugees in Iraq, says UNHCR

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

GENEVA: Violence and lack of income has caused nearly 4.5 million Iraqis to seek shelter elsewhere in their country or flee abroad, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

With numbers rising steadily, there are now nearly 2.3 million people displaced inside Iraq, said Astrid van Genderen Stort of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The number of Iraqis fleeing to neighboring countries has reached more than 2.2 million, van Genderen Stort told The Associated Press.

"It's just been going up slowly," she said.

More than 1 million of the internally displaced were driven from their homes prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to UNHCR.

Some of the increase is due to a re-evaluation of the figures, which are estimates, she said. But the displacement in Iraq continues unabated, she added. "Displacement (within the country) has been ongoing at a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 a day."

The agency said it was closely watching the developments at the Iraq-Turkey border in particular because more than 800,000 displaced have found shelter in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq which are more peaceful.

With Turkey threatening to carry out a military incursion to crack down on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, tension has been rising in the area.

At least 340 families have been driven from their homes in northern Iraq by the shelling of Iraqi towns on the border with Iran at the end of September, it said.

"UNHCR is worried about ongoing instability that could lead to further displacement," it added.

An Iranian official confirmed on Sept. 25 that Iranian forces had fired artillery against Kurdish guerrillas in the Iraqi border areas.

The IRAN daily quoted General Yahya Rahim Safavi as saying that Iranian forces were shelling the PEJAK, or Free Life Party of Kurdistan, group of guerrillas in Iraq.

Iraq claimed in August that the area was being shelled routinely from Iran.

Iran has repeatedly said that PEJAK, a breakaway faction of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, has regularly launched attacks inside Iran from bases in Iraq near the borders with Iran and Turkey.

:: Article nr. 37475 sent on 24-oct-2007 00:20 ECT


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