Security for predominantly Sunni Palestinians in Baghdad has deteriorated over the past week amid increasing fears of attack as members of the Mahdi army Shiite militia are reported to be taking over apartments in a mainly Shia area, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
In its latest warning over the safety of some 15,000 Palestinians still remaining in Iraq, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of Palestinians stranded on the Iraq-Syria border after fleeing violence in Baghdad had doubled to 80, with more reported on the way.
With weather conditions rapidly deteriorating, new supplies, including additional tents and kerosene, are urgently needed to take care of them, UNHCR said.
Over the past year the agency has voiced increasing alarm 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 for attack since his overthrow in 2003. Nearly 20,000 of them have already fled the country.
The 80 now stuck on the border are prevented from leaving Iraq by the Iraqi authorities, and from entering Syria by the Syrian authorities. The group has also been denied access to a no-man’s land between the two countries, where another 350 Palestinians have been living since last May.
Stranded just inside Iraq, they have been taken care of by a generous local tribal leader. UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross have also provided relief items such as blankets, stoves, plastic sheets, tents and food.
The agency has undertaken various demarches with the Iraqi and Syrian authorities, but has been unable to find any solution for those stranded. A recent agreement between Iraq and Syria called for tighter control of population movements between the two countries.