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Palestinians leave desert camp for Baghdad

News Stories, 26 May 2004

© UNHCR/A.Van Genderen Stort
Some 1,100 people are stranded in a makeshift site in the no man's land between Jordan and Iraq.

RUWEISHED, Jordan, May 26 (UNHCR) Scores of Palestinians have left a camp in eastern Jordan in recent days, opting to return to the frequent bombings and tension in Baghdad rather than spend another day hoping for a solution to their plight.

In the last week, 46 Palestinians who fled Iraq during last year's US-led war to topple Saddam Hussein have left Jordan's barren Ruweished refugee camp for the Iraqi capital. Twenty more are expected to follow on Wednesday night, while another 30 have indicated a willingness to leave for Baghdad in the coming days.

The Palestinians were among more than 1,500 people who have been living in camps assisted by the UN refugee agency in eastern Jordan's desert. Most of them say their plight has been ignored amidst the attention on neighbouring Iraq.

"We have now waited so long here that we'd rather return to Iraq and die in freedom than remain in a refugee camp where we have no life amidst snakes, scorpions, scorching heat and penetrating sandstorms," said 53-year-old Nasser Hassan Hussein as he packed his belongings into a small van.

Hussein worked as a painter in Baghdad before fleeing Iraq during last year's war.

"Nobody told us to go, but we decided to return with the consensus of the whole family," Hussein said. "Here our life is sand, our food is sand and our water is sand. After a year I know that there is no solution for us here, even hope cannot be found anymore."

UNHCR is not promoting returns to Iraq, and advised the Palestinians about the current insecurity and other challenges facing people in the country. Despite these warnings, the dozens who have so far left said they preferred to try their luck back in the Iraqi capital rather than stay in the dusty camps.

Last year, the UN refugee agency undertook a registration campaign of Palestinians in Baghdad. It counted some 23,000 Palestinian refugees, but the total number is estimated at between 35,000 and 42,000. Many of them had fled their homeland in 1948, while others moved to Iraq from elsewhere in the region, including thousands who settled there following the 1991 Gulf War.

Several thousand Palestinians were evicted from their homes in the Iraqi capital last April. UNHCR, the Red Crescent and the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration are currently sheltering 35 families at a Baghdad sports centre, while the refugee agency is providing a stipend to others who have found apartments where they feel more secure.

At Ruweished, Hussein said he felt bitter that his family's only alternative to staying in the camp was to risk their lives back in Baghdad.

"It is not fair that finding solutions seems to be so much harder for the Palestinians," he said. "I don't care about politics, I just want to have a normal life, somewhere, anywhere. I don't care where."

After the group informed UNHCR that they wanted to go back, the agency provided financial assistance to cover their travel expenses and several months' rent, along with other relief items.

The Palestinians are among several thousand people who fled Iraq for the safety of Jordan during last year's conflict. More than 1,500 are in UNHCR-assisted camps, including some 1,100 people in a makeshift site in the no man's land on the Iraqi frontier, and nearly 400 in Jordan's Ruweished camp.

Over the past year, UNHCR has worked very closely with the Jordanian government to try to find solutions for the refugees. The country has long been very hospitable to the refugees and found solutions for individual cases.

Last year, Jordan accepted 386 Palestinians with Jordanian spouses who had fled Iraq for the border camps. The remaining more than 350 Palestinians said they wanted to go to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza, and even to Israel, but UNHCR has yet to find any countries to accept them or to provide temporary asylum.

"We believe that the situation inside Iraq is so serious that governments in the region, including Jordan, should maintain an option for hosting refugees on a humanitarian basis," said Sten Bronee, UNHCR's Representative in Jordan.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for Jordan because there are no other countries within the region willing to host the refugees," he added. "Jordan needs to see support and solidarity by other countries in the region."

Other refugees camped in Jordan's eastern desert feel they are similarly running out of options. Most of the residents of the two sites overseen by the UNHCR are Iranian ethnic Kurds who fled their long-time refugee camp at Al Tash, 150 km west of Baghdad, last April. Others include Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis and Iranians,.

As the first group of Palestinians was preparing to leave for Baghdad last week, one desperate 12-year-old Iranian wandered out of the border camp and was killed by a passing truck while reportedly trying to sell goods along the highway.




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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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