TOKYO -- The millions of refugees now fleeing Iraqi military repression might "find a reassurance to return to their homes" if President Saddam Hussein were removed, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said yesterday.
Sadako Ogata stopped short of urging the United Nations or any other outside power to remove Mr. Saddam.
"I don't think we can remove a leader," she said in answer to a question, but the Kurds and other refugees flooding to the Turkish and Iranian borders "have been terribly frightened by what has happened to them" and are unlikely to return home until "the leader who bombed and burned them would be gone."
Mrs. Ogata's office has been made the lead international agency in helping Iraqi refugees in Iran and Turkey and is expected to take over the camps U.S. forces are building innorthern Iraq, once security is assured there. "We are prepared to take it over when the situation becomes more suitable," she said.
The commissioner, who spent four days at Turkey's and Iran's borders with Iraq last week, was answering questions by members of the Trilateral Commission, a private association of world political and opinion leaders from Europe, Japan and North America, to whom she appealed for help in obtaining the hundreds of millions of dollars her office needs to cope with the sudden refugee surge.
This weekend's four-day Trilateral Commission meeting was the last to be presided over by David Rockefeller, its chief founder in 1973, who is retiring as its U.S. chairman.
Mrs. Ogata said she has asked for $238.5 million for three months' costs in Iran and Turkey but has "received only $40 million."
"The international community has proven that it can respond swiftly and effectively to a political crisis,"she said, referring to the gulf war. "The challenge is now for the international community to react in equal measure to this humanitarian crisis."
Movements to Iraq's borders with Iran and Turkey, she said, have become "the fastest growing refugee outflow in the 40-year history" of her office.
She said the refugees have grown from 50,000 in Iran and 7,500 in Turkey, only three weeks ago, to a million in Iran and some 600,000 on the Turkish border when she left the area during the weekend.
"These figures may already be out of date," she said.
Even the daily flow of news photos, articles and TV film, she said, "cannot fully portray the horrendous suffering which I saw on the young faces during my visit. More than half of the refugees are children, most are below the age of 10 and many are infants. Those who survive face an uncertain future in appalling misery."