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Germans Supply Dates; Refugees Need Water

May 1, 1991

TAZEH ABAD, Iran (AP) _ With 48 hours of water left, bread dry as parchment and a diet only of dates, the 30,000 Kurdish refugees camped near this town received a shipment of emergency aid: three tons of dates.

So goes much of the relief effort in the western province of Bakhtaran, temporary home to about half of the more than 1 million Iraqi Kurds who fled to Iran after a failed rebellion.

In Iran, frustration and a feeling of helplessness are building on both sides of the aid pipeline.

Iranian and some U.N. officials complain that despite playing host to the largest number of refugees in the world, Iran is not getting sufficient international attention.

Relief workers in Iran say they are stymied by bureaucracy, poor organization and bad communications. Many have said they feel as if Iran wants their material aid but not their presence.

Despite President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s efforts to improve relations with the West, twelve years of Islamic revolution have put radical Shiite fundamentalists firmly in control of much of the bureaucracy.

Kurds, who’ve been seeking a homeland or autonomy for over 70 years, constantly ask visitors to their camps in Iran when the international community will come to their aid.

″We didn’t see any bread for four days,″ said 21-year-old Burhan Muhmad, an engineering student from Suleimaniyah. ″The food is very polluted, and the water, and the doctors are very little.″

He said the refugees at the tent city near Tazeh Abad, dubbed Camp Echo by German relief fliers, had not seen any Western-donated food.

Some 800,000 Kurds fled to the mountains along the Turkish-Iraqi border, and far more aid has reached them.

Last week, Iran reported receiving 800 tons of foreign airlift aid in all. At the same time, the United States alone announced plans to provide 800 tons of aid each to day to Kurds in the Turkish border region.

The dates, the first large load of food to arrive at Camp Echo, were brought Tuesday by a German air force helicopter that landed in a field next to the mountain-plateau encampment about 30 miles from the Iran-Iraq border.

The German Embassy bought the dates in Tehran.

Germany has sent 20 cargo helicopters, 180 soldiers and several teams of military doctors to Iran. They began arriving a week ago in the first Western military presence in the country since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Germans helicopters can deliver about 80 tons of goods a day, but spend much of the time idle. No one has asked the Germans to help deliver relief supplies from countries other than their own.

Lt. Col. Wulff Bickenbach of the German Air Force said they have offered. ″The Iranians said they’d think about it,″ he said.

″It’s dreadful for me,″ said German army air corps Capt. Werner Czychi after delivering the dates. He said refugees told him they’d been eating dates for seven days.

″There’s nothing to do and there’s a whole organization ready to start work,″ said Bickenbach.

Frustrated, the Germans have sent 780 gallons of water and food from their own military rations to some camps. A German military physician visiting Camp Echo estimated the water supply would last only about 48 hours more.

″Bureaucracy, that’s what it is,″ said Luis Duarte, mission director of Lisbon-based International Medical Assistance.

He and the president of the organization waited three days in Bakhtaran last week before being allowed to meet with the local head of the Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.

It took eight days for a site to be chosen for a field hospital to be set up by the Germans, who have been assigned to work with seven camps near the border.

Some relief workers said the fault did not lay completely with local officials.

″I do feel that they (the Red Crescent) are doing as best as they can,″ said Sven Dommerud, a surgeon from Oslo representing the Norwegian Red Cross and government.

″One million, we wouldn’t be able to cope with that number of refugees in Europe.″

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