UNHCR chief visits Iraq

Feb. 19, 2008 at 2:20 PM
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BAGHDAD, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The U.N. refugee chief Monday promised to strengthen his mission in Iraq and made proposals to examine conditions to bring displaced Iraqis home.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, following a two-day visit to Iraq, said he would increase his Baghdad staff from two to five diplomats, a U.N. statement said.

The United Nations decreased its profile in Iraq following a deadly bombing of its headquarters in August 2003.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the decision by Guterres was "very good news." Guterres said the decision to increase the staff there would allow U.N. officials to work with the Iraqi central government to offer humanitarian assistance to internal and external Iraqi refugees.

Guterres said he would also lay the foundation for the return of the 2.4 million Iraqis living in other countries, such as Jordan and Syria.

"Our key common interest is that the returns will take place voluntarily, in safety, in dignity and in a sustainable way -- contributing to the future reconstruction of Iraq," Guterres said.

Guterres also visited with high-ranking officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government Sunday.

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