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Up to one million Iraqi refugees expected, say Austrian aid workers

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Iraq
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DPA
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Vienna (dpa) - Up to one million people may flee Iraq if full-scale fighting breaks out, Austrian aid organizations said Thursday.

Catholic aid organization Caritas spokeswoman Barbara Wicha said it was planning an aid operation in Syria, which is due to its open border to Iraq and expected to be the primary destination for refugees.

The press spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Roland Schoenbauer, said that ''a considerable proportion'' of Iraqis living in the heavily populated areas in the east would flee to Iran.

He said that the organization Human Rights Watch had also predicted there would be one million refugees.

UNICEF estimated the number at 500,000 to 600,000. It was difficult to say how many would flee across each of the borders to neighbouring countries, he said.

Schoenbauer quoted the Red Cross as estimating it would have to provide aid to nearly 300,000 war refugees, 100,000 in Iran, 80,000 in Turkey, 25,000 each in Syria and Jordan, and 55,000 fleeing from one part of Iraq to another without crossing an external border.

He said his own organization had stockpiled aid consignments for 300,000 people in three warehouses, in Iskenderun in Turkey, Kermanshah in Iran and Aqabah in Jordan. The goods included tents, blankets, plastic sheets, small stoves, mattresses and hygiene material.

Food would be supplied by the governments and aid organizations in the respective countries.

Iran above all had ''great experience'' and the necessary infrastructure to cope with huge streams of refugees, According to Human Rights Watch, there are already some 203,000 Iraqi refugees from previous conflicts in Iran.

In the case of a full-scale war, Iraqi Shiites were thought to be likely to seek refuge in Iraq's mainly Shiite eastern neighbour. A total of 16 camps are to be set up in the Iranian border area to receive them.

dpa qu ao AP-NY-03-20-03 0925EST

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