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Iraq: UNHCR welcomes Grand Ayatollah's Fatwa on Palestinians

Briefing notes

Iraq: UNHCR welcomes Grand Ayatollah's Fatwa on Palestinians

2 May 2006

We welcome Grand Ayatollah Al-Said Al-Sistani's issuance of a Fatwa in Iraq on Sunday (30 April) asking for the protection of Palestinian refugees in the country. The Fatwa forbids attacks on Palestinians living in Iraq and asks that they and their property be protected. The Fatwa comes as a reply to a letter of 19 April from the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Refugee Affairs calling on the Grand Ayatollah to help prevent further attacks on Palestinians. In his Fatwa, the Grand Ayatollah has also asked authorities to provide protection to Palestinians and end their suffering.

On several occasions over the past months we have expressed our increased concern about the security situation of Palestinians in Iraq. After the Samarra bombings on 22 February, pressure had increased on the Palestinian community in eastern Baghdad. In March, close to 200 Palestinians left the capital for the Iraq-Jordan border, saying that killings, disappearances and hostage-taking had made life intolerable in the Iraqi capital.

The government of Syria agreed last week to accept the Palestinians stranded at the border. We are still working on the modalities with Syria, UNRWA and IOM. Transport through Jordan has turned out to be impossible, as no access into Jordan was given. We will now have to transport the group through Iraq to Syria. Upon arrival in Syria, UNRWA will be taking over responsibility for the group.

There are an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq, of whom 23,000 have been registered by UNHCR in Baghdad. The Palestinian refugees came to Iraq in three main waves - in 1948, in 1967 and in 1991 - and were provided with protection and assistance by the former regime. They enjoyed a relatively high standard of treatment that some segments of the Iraqi population considered unfair. As a result, the Palestinians have in the past few years faced evictions, threats and harassment.