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UNHCR seeks urgent health care for Palestinians at Iraq border camp

Briefing notes

UNHCR seeks urgent health care for Palestinians at Iraq border camp

15 May 2007

UNHCR is highly concerned about living conditions for hundreds of Palestinians stuck at the Al Waleed refugee camp close to Iraq's border with Syria. We are particularly worried about the lack of medical facilities - many of the camp's 942 residents need urgent medical attention, including a mother of seven who suffers from leukaemia and a teenage diabetic boy.

A UNHCR team visited Al Waleed on Sunday to assess the living conditions and needs of the Palestinians in the camp, which was opened last December and lies two miles from the Iraq-Syria border. They verified that the Palestinians, victims of persecution in Baghdad, were living in precarious conditions.

The team found that the tented camp is overcrowded and many people are suffering from respiratory and other ailments that need proper medical treatment. But the nearest hospital in Iraq is located four hours away by car and the road runs through dangerous territory. At least three people, including a six-month-old baby, have died from treatable illnesses since the camp opened.

Living conditions are likely to get worse during the summer months. Temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius have already been recorded this month, while sandstorms are another regular hazard. International aid agencies, including UNHCR, are not allowed to maintain a presence in the camp due to security reasons and so they must visit during the day and can only visit on an infrequent basis.

Water is trucked to the camp daily, but this is rationed to less than one litre per person because of the increasing numbers of Palestinians fleeing to Al Waleed to escape threats and attacks in Baghdad. More are expected.

An estimated 1,400 Palestinians are living in desperate conditions in refugee camps along the Iraq-Syria border, unable to cross the frontier into a country already straining to cope with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. A steady flow of Palestinians have fled Baghdad since March 2006, when intimidation, forced evictions and attacks against their community began mounting. Syria let a first group cross the border and settle at Al Hol refugee camp in the Al Hassekeh governorate in May last year. A second group was stranded at Al Tanf refugee camp in no-man's land, but those currently fleeing Baghdad can no longer access Al Tanf, home to 389 Palestinians.

Today, Palestinians fleeing Baghdad for the Syrian border have nowhere to go aside from Al Waleed, which lacks the infrastructure to support them. UNHCR has repeatedly called for international support, but with limited success.