Iraqi refugee camp in Saudi Arabia empty

Nov. 11, 2008 at 5:27 PM
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RAFHA, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- All of the former Iraqi army deserters and prisoners of war at the Rafha refugee camp in Saudi Arabia have vacated the enclave, Iraqi media report.

The Iraqi daily Azzaman said the camp in northern Saudi Arabia is empty of all refugees. Rafha at one time housed more than 35,000 Iraqi refugees who fled persecution from former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein following the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991.

Reports following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 said around 5,200 remained in the camp, though a majority of the refugees had sought asylum in Iran, Australia and Europe.

Azzaman reported that thousands had fled Iraq as U.S. President George H.W. Bush had promised aid to Iraqi military personnel who abandoned their positions, adding several of the refugees instead sat in squalid conditions for more than 15 years. The flood of refugees followed a failed Shiite uprising in 1991 that the United States encouraged, but later abandoned.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 2003 started repatriating several of the refugees to the Iraqi port city of Basra following the U.S. invasion, though suspended the campaign a year later due to security concerns in Iraq.

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