Letter: UN strives to protect Kurds

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The Independent Online
UN strives to protect Kurds

Sir: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) shares the concerns of your correspondents concerning the wellbeing of some 14,000 Turkish Kurd refugees in Atroush Camp (letter, 22 January). However, I must correct the emotive and ill-informed conclusions in their letter.

UNHCR is not "sacrificing" the refugees or trying to deny them the "minimum internationally recognised humanitarian standards of treatment". UNHCR is, in fact, trying to follow its mandate to protect their lives and interests in an extremely complicated and dangerous situation.

UNHCR has been providing assistance in Atroush since 1994. However, armed "activist" elements have recently seized effective control of the camp with the result that UNHCR and non-governmental organisation staff have been held hostage for three days in one incident and the office can no longer physically continue its humanitarian tasks in any degree of safety. Refugees have been forcibly prevented from leaving Atroush by the activists and on occasion have been pressured into activities which could compromise their refugee status.

In those circumstances it was decided to discontinue humanitarian assistance in Atroush itself. Two transit sites have been opened nearby at Muqibla and Balkus, where we will continue to assist refugees who either choose to repatriate to Turkey or who decide not to. UNHCR is in constant touch with the Turkish government, insisting repatriation must be absolutely voluntary, and the agency is increasing both its passive and active monitoring of refugees, including an increase in staff at Silopi to observe and facilitate border movement.

UNHCR will continue to work fully for the wellbeing and protection of all refugees in the region in question.

PHILIPPE LAVANCHY

Representative for the United Kingdom and Ireland

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

London SW1

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