cash and gifts greet refugees on return to baghdad

Cash gifts and warm welcome for returned Iraqi refugees
A newly-returned Iraqi refugee from Syria shows an envelope containing financial aid promised by the Iraqi government to the returning refugees at a hall in Baghdad's al-Mansur Hotel, 29 November 2007.

Iraq’s immigration minister on Thursday welcomed with gifts of cash around 375 Iraqi refugees who returned during the night on a fleet of buses from neighbouring Syria, an AFP photographer said.

The convoy of buses, which left Damascus on Tuesday evening, arrived in Baghdad around 2.00 am Thursday (2300 GMT Wednesday) after being escorted across Iraq’s dangerous highways by the Iraqi military.  Returnees were put up in a hotel on the banks of the Tigris, where they were later greeted by Immigration and Refugees Minister Abdel Samad Rahman Sultan during an official welcoming ceremony. Each family was given one million dinars (800 dollars) to assist their resettlement before they left for their homes, Iraqi officials said.

“Immigration and Refugees Minister Abdel Samad Rahman Sultan participated in ceremonies welcoming the families,” his ministry said in a statement. “He presented gifts to express the government’s happiness for the return of Iraq’s sons.”

The convoy marked the start of a government effort to assist Iraqi refugees return home, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Wednesday, adding that more would be organised in the coming days.

He put the number of Iraqis returning to the country in recent months at 60,000, but these figures have not been independently verified.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.2 million Iraqis have been displaced since the US-led invasion of March 2003, including 750,000 who found refuge in Jordan, 1.4 million in Syria and about two million elsewhere in Iraq.

The latest Iraqi Red Crescent figures showed that the number of internally displaced people had grown to 2,299,425 people by the end of September, 16 percent more than at the end of August.

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