Deaths Increasing Among Kurdish Refugees, U.N. Officials Say With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ The death rate among Kurdish refugees streaming into Iran has reached nearly 2,000 a day, U.N. officials said Friday.
Iran says more than 1 million Kurds and Shiite Muslims have crossed its frontier since Iraqi troops crushed their rebellion against President Saddam Hussein last month.
″The mortality average is still very high here, particularly among children and old people,″ said Giuseppe de Vincentis, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The U.N. agency’s latest figure doubles its previous estimate of 1,000 refugee deaths per day to include fatalities among the half-million Kurds still crowded on the Iraqi side of the frontier, de Vincentis said.
Camps and towns overflowing with displaced Kurds have become a breeding ground for disease, and the U.N. agency fears an outbreak of cholera or meningitis now that warm weather has replaced the freezing rains that accompanied the main exodus.
So far, most international aid has gone to the smaller number of Kurds who sought refuge in neighboring Turkey.
Aid donations by foreign governments and private groups are now arriving in large quantities in Iran, but the relief effort is still largely uncoordinated and bottlenecks have developed in distribution.
Only two international airports near the border region, in Tehran and Tabriz, are equipped to receive large cargo aircraft. Most airfields near the remote mountain passes through which the Kurds are streaming can only handle small airplanes.
A total of 54 cargo flights had arrived by Friday and 40 more were expected in the near-future.
But U.N. officials said they could not estimate the total aid received since most foreign governments and relief groups have concluded bilateral agreements with Tehran and were not coordinating with the United Nations.
Much of the aid, including medicine, tents and food, has to be trucked along crowded and winding roads in the northwestern provinces of Bakhtaran and West Azerbaijan, where about 800,000 refugees are located.
Kurdish refugees huddled in squalid camps of plastic sheeting or crowded into mosques and other public buildings in towns along the border have complained bitterly that they have not yet received any assistance.
The Iranian government has so far provided the bulk of the aid, distributing it through the Red Crescent Society and other domestic relief organizations, de Vincentis said.
But the influx has strained resources in a country which now hosts the largest refugee population in the world.
There are almost 5 million refugees in Iran, most of them Afghans displaced by the long civil war in that country, according to official figures.
″The first phase of the emergency, when we were seeing 100,000 people crossing the border per day, has been overcome,″ de Vincentis said. He added that only about one-tenth that number was now coming in.