Iraq/Syria: Situation for Palestinians in border camps continues to deteriorate
The situation of more than 1,400 Palestinians who have fled Baghdad and are stranded in camps on the Iraq-Syria border is deteriorating by the day. There is an urgent need for medical care as well as an immediate humanitarian solution and we urge countries in the region - and further afield - to help end their suffering.
A UNHCR team visited Al Waleed camp - home to 1,071 Palestinians - on the Iraqi side of the border last week and identified four children and one young man in urgent need of medical care. They included a youth with a hole in his heart - who needs life-saving surgery, two children with Hodgkin's disease suffering from relapses; one youth about to lose his leg because of a vascular disease; and a young man with severe diabetes losing his sight. UNHCR and ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] are trying everything to provide proper medical care but this is impossible in the snake- and scorpion-infested border camp without access to proper water, sanitation, care and shelter.
An added worry is that the security situation is also rapidly deteriorating in the area. Early last week the camp was visited by armed local men who threatened the refugees and demanded some of their supplies. The Iraqi interior ministry put out an arrest warrant, but the culprits are still at large. The refugees are increasingly scared and frustrated, trapped in the middle of nowhere and unable to understand why nobody or no country can help them or give them access to safety. Several refugees begged our team not to forget them and leave them in this hell. No one wants to return to Baghdad.
High temperatures and sandstorms are adding to their suffering. During the day, temperatures in the tents rise to 50ºC and there's little shade. There are regular sandstorms. Water and sanitation infrastructure remains very basic as UNHCR and ICRC have been hampered from establishing a proper site. Various agencies on the ground have been threatened by local Iraqis and at times blocked from providing assistance to the trapped Palestinians.
In Baghdad the situation remains grim. Many Palestinians are trapped, afraid to move but also afraid to stay. There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians remaining in Iraq - less than half of the estimated figure in 2003. UNHCR has repeatedly called for international support for the Palestinians but with few results. We continue to strongly urge the Iraqi authorities and multinational forces to provide protection to the extent possible to the Palestinian community in Baghdad and at the Iraq-Syria border.