The refugees are part of a far larger group - estimated to be around 33,000 - who fled Iraq after the first Gulf war.

 

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 386 displaced Iraqis remained at the Rafha camp near the Saudi-Iraq border after 15 returned home last week.

 

While Saudi Arabian Assistant Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz was quoted in the Saudi press on Tuesday as saying: "Around 400 Iraqi refugees remain at the Rafha camp. Talks are taking place to secure their safe return to their country."

 

The remaining refugees still believe the areas where they come from are unstable and that they could be in danger if they return, UNHCR external affairs officer in the Gulf Mamoon Muhsen said.

 

Rafha camp

  

"UNHCR's job is to facilitate the voluntary return of refugees, and it undertakes contacts to ensure that the life of any refugee who goes home is not in danger," he added.

  

Rafha camp at one point sheltered 33,000 refugees, most of whom had fled southern Iraq after a Shia uprising in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war, which was crushed by Iraqi government forces.

  

Camp residents had dwindled to 5200 by the time Saddam Hussein was ousted in April 2003, following which 4750 of them were repatriated in batches between July 2003 and January 2004.