• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Death of Palestinian boy highlights dangers at Iraq border refugee camp

News Stories, 10 September 2008

© UNHCR/P.Sands
Palestinian children bike on the Baghdad-Damascus highway passing Al Tanf camp. A child was killed by a vehicle in the camp earlier this week.

DAMASCUS, Syria, September 10 (UNHCR) The death of a nine-year-old boy in a road accident on the Iraq-Syria border has focused attention once more on the extremely dangerous and harsh living of hundreds of Palestinian refugees stranded at a makeshift desert camp.

The young refugee, Mohamed Kamal Ibrahim, was due to be resettled soon in Sweden with his family. He died late Tuesday afternoon in an ambulance headed for a hospital in the suburbs of Damascus after he was hit by a reversing truck in Al Tanf, a ragtag gathering of tents and makeshift shelters housing some 920 Palestinians, including 355 children, in the no man's land between Iraq and Syria.

"We hope there will be no other deaths and that we can get out of this [camp] as soon as possible," said one of the Al Tanf refugees, bitter about the death of Mohamed and the limbo that the Palestinians find themselves in.

"This is a terrible tragedy," said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR's representative in Syria. "The present area is not at all suited as a location for accommodation of hundreds of Palestinians. This proves once again how important it is to find a way to relocate this group to a more suitable area."

The Baghdad-Damascus highway runs right past the settlement on the Iraqi side and another child was killed by a vehicle on this road in 2006. Conditions within the camp are extremely tough; aside from sandstorms, fire risks and extremes of cold and heat, the area is infested by snakes and scorpions.

Many of the Palestinians, who cannot enter Syria unless in an emergency, suffer from severe trauma and a range of ailments, yet the nearest hospital in Iraq is 400 kilometres away while the nearest major medical facility in Syria is a distance of 270km from Al Tanf.

The UN refugee agency has repeatedly drawn attention to the lack of medical facilities, the precarious living conditions and the desperation in Al Tanf, which UNHCR says highlight the need for a humanitarian solution to be found for Palestinians trapped at the border after fleeing Baghdad.

Another nearby border camp in the desert area, Al Waleed, hosts an estimated 1,400 Palestinian refugees. UNHCR has repeatedly called for international support for the Palestinians in both camps, but with few results.

Few Palestinians in the border camps have been accepted for resettlement or offered shelter in third countries. Only some 300 Palestinians have gone to non-traditional resettlement countries such as Brazil and Chile. A group of 29 vulnerable women and children from Al Waleed arrived in Iceland on Tuesday this week to start new lives.

Some urgent medical cases were taken by a few European countries, but this is a very small proportion of the 2,300 Palestinians stranded in the desert.

UNHCR continues to advocate for alternative humane solutions in the hope that all of the Palestinians will be able to leave the harsh conditions of the camps. Their relocation would in no way jeopardize their right to return at any stage, if and when such a possibility arises.

By Dalia Al-Achi and Carole Lalève in Damascus, Syria

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Children

Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

Iraq: Preparing for Winter in DohukPlay video

Iraq: Preparing for Winter in Dohuk

Efforts are under way in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries to prepare refugees and the internally displaced for winter. But UNHCR remains deeply concerned that a $58.45 million funding shortfall could leave as many as a million people out in the cold.
Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's ChildrenPlay video

South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's Children

Years of violence and bloodshed in South Sudan robbed Abuk of her seven children. When fighting returned last year, the old lady fled anew with her grandchildren, hampered by deteriorating eyesight.