Deluged with about twice as many Iraqi refugees as Turkey, Iran can no longer cope and desperately needs the kind of relief that is pouring into Turkey, Western aid officials say.
"If food is not moved in here quickly, we will be unable to maintain life in these camps," David McDowell of Save the Children said Wednesday at this refugee camp near the Iraqi border.Efforts to bring in international relief for the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, mostly Kurds, who have fled to Iran have also been slowed by the country's tense relations with the West and Iranian red tape.
Save the Children's British chapter is providing food for the refugees on an initial budget of $300,000. Not much compared to the millions of dollars spent in Turkey so far by numerous international aid organizations.
"Frankly, I'm surprised that more American groups aren't here," said Eric Weintz, director of projects for the Connecticut-based AmeriCares, the only American aid organization in Iran. "This is where the trouble is."
Most refugees in Iran are living in squalid camps, where tents double as latrines, and they are eating only bread, said John Hicks, another Save the Children official.
Vegetables, sugar, tea and meat can barely be found; when they are, Iranian merchants demand inflated prices.
Aid officials say hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Kurds have died for lack of food, shelter or medicine while struggling to reach Iran.
Western officials and Kurdish refugees generally give Iran high marks for its treatment of those fleeing Saddam Hussein's army after a failed rebellion.