The United Nations refugee agency today called on the Iraqi Government and United States-led coalition forces to provide necessary protection for 20,000 Palestinians in the war-torn country after a mortar attack last night killed four Palestinians, wounded a dozen more, including women and children, and displaced many others.
“[This] is an alarming escalation of the violence engulfing this vulnerable community and may force others to flee,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. The agency has repeatedly expressed concern for the Palestinians, who fled to Iraq from their homes in newly created Israel in 1948. Some received preferential treatment under ousted President Saddam Hussein, and they have become targets since his overthrow in 2003.
“In 2003, UNHCR registered 23,000 of an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq,” (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. “We believe about 20,000 of them remain in the country. They haven't had much option, and we are extremely concerned over the plight of those remaining, and the inability to provide them with protection.
“It is the responsibility of the Iraqi Government and the coalition forces to provide the necessary protection, particularly of refugees in Iraq who have no alternatives for protection in other countries.”
Last night’s attack occurred in Baghdad's Al Baladiya neighbourhood and followed warnings by militia that Palestinians should leave. Al Baladiya used to house some 8,000 Palestinians, with about 4,000 reported to still remain there.
“With this latest incident, it is now very possible that we will see more Palestinians trying to leave for surrounding countries, primarily Syria and Jordan. This worries us because both of those countries have closed their borders to Palestinians,” Mr. Redmond said, noting that 340 Iraqi Palestinians have been stuck in no-man’s land, some of them for the last five months, hoping to enter Syria.
“We strongly appeal to neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for Palestinian refugees from Iraq, and to extend once more, in this holy month of Ramadan, the customary generosity and humanitarian concern that could provide safety to Palestinians under threat,” he added, calling on other Arab States to help Syria and Jordan with the burden.
Mr. Redmond also voiced concern for 1.5 million internally displaced Iraqis, 754,000 of them uprooted since the US invasion of 2003, and 365,000 of these just since February in the sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samara. “We remain extremely concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq and the ongoing displacement this is creating both inside and outside Iraq,” he said.