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UNHCR extremely concerned by reports of abduction of Palestinian men in Baghad

Briefing notes

UNHCR extremely concerned by reports of abduction of Palestinian men in Baghad

23 January 2007

We received a report through our Iraq unit that early this morning, 17 male Palestinians accommodated in a Baghdad apartment building rented by UNHCR were taken away by men dressed in Iraqi security force uniforms and driving security vehicles. At midday, a relative of one of the men and a local aid worker said that the men had been released, but UNHCR was unable to immediately verify this.

Witnesses said the security men forcibly entered the Palestinians' apartments in the Hay el Nidal area of Baghdad at 5 a.m. today, breaking doors and windows. UNHCR is very concerned and is seeking further information. The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General is also taking it up with senior Iraqi officials.

Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Palestinians had previously received preferential treatment from the government. After the regime change, many were evicted by landlords. The 17 men taken away on Tuesday and their families had been evicted from their homes in 2003 after the change of regime and were initially housed in tents in the Hayfa Sports Club along with several hundred other evicted Palestians. UNHCR and the Ministry of Displacement and Migration eventually found this specific group apartments in the Hay el Nidal district.

There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians remaining in Iraq - less than half of the estimated figure in 2003. They are living in constant fear of harrassment, killings and kidnappings in Baghdad. For those who try to leave, the trip to the border is increasingly dangerous. They cannot get proper documents, and hundreds who have tried to flee are currently stuck at the Syrian border. Another group has been stuck in an isolated camp in Jordan since 2003. Those who do manage to leave Iraq often do so illegally.

It is urgent that international support is found to bring at least a temporary solution for Palestinians from Iraq. UNHCR has already tried several possibilities to no avail, including entry to Jordan and Syria; return to the Palestinian territories, with the permission of Israel; relocation to other Arab states; and resettlement outside the region. At the same time, we continue to advocate for better protection of the Palestinian community inside Iraq. But under the present circumstances, return to Iraq is no option unless security is restored. Right now, it's an untenable situation for the Palestinians and it is deteriorating on a daily basis.