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Palestinian refugees hurt in blaze at camp on Syrian-Iraqi border, says UN agency

Palestinian refugees hurt in blaze at camp on Syrian-Iraqi border, says UN agency

Palestinians at Iraqi-Syrian border (file photo)
Fire swept through a refugee camp in the no-man’s-land near the Syrian-Iraqi border last night, injuring 28 Palestinians and destroying the tents and personal possessions of seven families, the United Nations refugee agency reported today, calling this evidence of the poor living conditions in the area.

Survivors said they escaped death by only seconds as the Al Tanf camp was engulfed by the blaze on Tuesday night, which was apparently caused by a spark from an electric cable igniting a diesel can and gas cylinder. Strong winds also fanned the flames.

Three Palestinian refugees suffered severe burns and 25 others, mostly children, received minor burns and smoke inhalation, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was the second fire at the camp.

One survivor told UNHCR officials that his tent became a fireball within a minute. “There was no time to take anything,” he said. “Our children were sleeping. My neighbour has serious burns because he went into the burning flames looking for his child who had already run out of the tent. Everything is lost, including our hope in life.”

Al Tanf is host to 389 Palestinian refugees, mainly women and children, fleeing violence in Iraq. They have been stranded on the border area for the last 11 months after being denied entry to Syria or any other neighbouring country of Iraq. Conditions at the camp are extremely harsh, with a desert climate and winds frequently swirling sand and dust.

UNHCR staff have brought fresh supplies, including tents and bedding, from the Syrian capital, Damascus, to replace those lost in the fire.

Laurens Jolles, UNHCR’s Representative in Syria described the fire as an accident waiting to happen.

“It is an example of how inappropriate and dangerous this place is for humans to live in and underlines the need to move these refugees to an appropriate and safe place,” Mr. Jolles said.

More than 1,000 Palestinians are stuck at the Al Tanf and Al Waleed areas along the Syrian-Iraqi border, too afraid to return to their homes, especially in Baghdad, where they have been the target of deadly attacks. An estimated 15,000 Palestinians still live in the Iraqi capital, half the number of the community in 2003.