The United Nations refugee agency expressed fresh concern today about the plight of an estimated 20,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq as deteriorating security forces an increasing number to try to flee the country.
Palestinians living inside Iraq “lack protection, have serious problems obtaining identity cards, and have been the target of continuing harassment, threats, kidnapping and killings,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a media briefing in Geneva.
Ms. Pagonis voiced particular concern about the conditions in Baghdad, noting that late last month armed men there hand-delivered written death threats to several Palestinians – a reprise of a similar episode earlier this year that led to widespread panic among the capital’s Palestinian community.
She said UNHCR’s attempts to enlist the help of the new Iraqi Government and the multinational forces stationed inside the country “have yielded modest results” only, and now about 20,000 Palestinians remain, down from 34,000 three years ago.
Some Palestinians received preferential treatment under the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and supported his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But they have become targets since Saddam’s overthrow in 2003. The community comprises those who fled to Iraq from their homes in newly created Israel in 1948 and others born in the country.
Outside Baghdad, UNHCR has fears for the safety of some 330 Palestinians who tried to flee Iraq and have been stranded at the Al-Tanf border crossing with Syria for more than four months.
Describing the humanitarian conditions in the makeshift camp at the border as deplorable, Ms. Pagonis said “winter is coming and there is no solution in sight for these men, women and children.” About 250 people are living in tents which could be flooded when upcoming rains arrive.
Tensions are rising, she said, noting Iraqi security forces have regularly visited the site and that medical and sanitation facilities are inadequate. Last month a 14-year-old boy was hit and killed by a truck when he asked for water, while the father of a premature baby who died in hospital was not allowed to leave the area to attend the funeral.
Syria, which admitted 300 other Palestinians from Iraq into its El Hol refugee camp in May, is refusing to admit those currently stranded at the border. UNHCR said those who made it to El Hol have only temporary status, limited freedom of movement and no clear prospects for their future.
There is also concern about the situation in Jordan’s Ruwayshed refugee camp, where 150 Palestinians from Iraq are living, some since 2003. Ms. Pagonis said that while re-settlement is possible for about 50 of the camp members over the next year, the rest face an uncertain future as Jordan has called on other countries in the region to share the burden.