UN refugee agency seeks urgent health care for Palestinians at Iraq border camp

UN refugee agency seeks urgent health care for Palestinians at Iraq border camp

The United Nations refugee agency said today it is “highly concerned” over living conditions for hundreds of Palestinians who fled their homes in Baghdad to a camp near Iraq’s Syrian border, which has no healthcare and is vulnerable to a harsh climate.

“We are particularly worried about the lack of medical facilities – many of the camp's 942 residents need urgent medical attention, including a mother of seven who suffers from leukaemia and a teenage diabetic boy,” Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said of the Al Waleed facility.

At least three people, including a six-month-old baby, have died from treatable illnesses since the camp opened last December, Ms. Pagonis said.

A UNHCR team that visited this week found the tented camp overcrowded and many of its residents suffering from respiratory and other ailments, with the nearest hospital in Iraq four hours away by roads that pass through dangerous territory.

Water is trucked to the camp daily, but this is rationed to less than one litre per person because of the increasing numbers of Palestinians fleeing Baghdad violence.

International aid agencies, including UNHCR, are not allowed to maintain a presence in the camp due to security reasons and so they must visit during the day and only on an infrequent basis.

The agency said that living conditions are only likely to get worse during the summer months, when temperatures soar and sandstorms threaten.

A steady flow of Palestinians have fled Baghdad since March 2006, when intimidation, forced evictions and attacks against their community began mounting.

According to UNHCR, an estimated 1,400 Palestinians are living in desperate conditions along the Iraq-Syria border, unable to cross the frontier into a country already straining to cope with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq.

“UNHCR has repeatedly called for international support, but with limited success,” Ms. Pagonis said.

In another development, a UN spokesman announced today that the Iraq office of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is organizing a three-day conference this week in Amman, Jordan on the issue of water.

“The principal aim of the conference is to spotlight the major challenges to the water sector in Iraq and propose a course of action that includes identifying a long-term strategy, as well as sound policies for water resource management,” spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists in New York.