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UN evacuates critically ill Palestinian children from Iraq to Syria

UN evacuates critically ill Palestinian children from Iraq to Syria

After weeks of appeals for the urgent medical evacuation from Iraq of seriously ill Palestinians, most of them children, the United Nations refugee agency was able this week to transport the first four patients into Syria to receive much-needed medical aid.

“We are pleased to report that Syrian authorities on Wednesday allowed the first four into Syria,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today. “The four are now in very critical condition and we greatly appreciate this decision by Syrian authorities.”

The four patients, aged between 2 and 21, are suffering from severe diabetes, paralysis, Hodgkins disease and heart problems. They have been stranded in Al Waleed refugee camp on the Iraqi side of the border for months without proper medical attention.

At least 16 other critically ill Palestinians still remain in Al Waleed camp and Baghdad, where access to specialized medical care is impossible. They include a 3-year-old suffering from a severe and painful skin rash, a 1-year-old with serious urinary problems and a 2-year-old suffering from cerebral palsy.

“We continue our search for urgent solutions to get these children out, as most of them might die or be handicapped for life if they don’t get proper care soon,” Mr. Redmond said.

Some 1,550 Palestinians who fled violence in Baghdad are stranded in camps on the Iraq-Syria border. Over the past year UNHCR has repeatedly called on the Iraqi authorities and the United States-led multinational forces to protect the Palestinians, who fled to Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Some received preferential treatment under Saddam Hussein and have become targets for attack since his overthrow in 2003. Nearly 20,000 of them have already fled but an estimated 15,000 still remain in the country, mostly in Baghdad.

Of the four evacuated on Wednesday, two will be allowed to remain in Syria, with some family members, while undergoing urgently needed medical care. The other two will travel on to third countries, where they will receive more specialized care. “We will be monitoring and funding the medical care, lodging and rehabilitation process,” Mr. Redmond said.

Meanwhile, conditions in Al Waleed and nearby Al Tanf camps remain dire, according to UNHCR. In recent weeks, temperatures rose to nearly 50 degrees centigrade, making daily life nearly unbearable. The agency has procured some 90 small fridges, one per family tent, and tent coolers.

“UNHCR continues to appeal for urgent solutions for the Palestinians at the border and in Baghdad, who are being targeted, killed, kidnapped and threatened,” Mr. Redmond said.

“They have no possibility to leave Iraq as they are not accepted anywhere, unlike other persecuted Iraqis who can still flee to neighbouring countries and further afield. So far the response of the world has been minimal and we remain extremely concerned about their fate,” he added.