UNHCR condemns Baghdad attack; urges countries to help fleeing Palestinians
GENEVA, December 14 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said here Thursday it was alarmed by a militia attack on a Palestinian neighbourhood in Baghdad which left at least nine people dead, including several children, and it appealed to countries to provide a humanitarian solution for Palestinians attempting to flee Iraq.
Local militia reportedly shelled the Al Baladiya area for three hours on Wednesday with no attempt by the Iraqi police or multinational forces to halt the attack. The militia also blocked ambulances from taking the dead and wounded to hospital. At least nine people were reportedly killed and many injured during the attack.
"We are very alarmed by this attack and dismayed by the lack of protection given to the Palestinians in Iraq. They have very limited freedom of movement and no possibility to leave the country - unlike Iraqis - to find a safe haven, nor any community to protect them," said Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR's Geneva-based deputy director for the region.
"We are urgently appealing to the Iraqi government and the multinational forces to provide protection and safety or an alternative safe location for this targeted group. We also ask the world to stop turning their back and provide a humane solution and safe haven to these people who have no way out," he added.
However, discussions on Thursday with the Iraqi authorities leave little room for optimism that anything can be done to improve protection for this population.
The exact fate of those wounded in the attack is not known, as some families were too scared to take injured relations to hospital or remove bodies. Others are too fearful of their own safety to visit some wounded smuggled out in private cars to hospital.
Violence against the Palestinian community in Iraq has increased in recent years, but markedly so since the bombing of an important Shia Muslim mosque in Samarra last February.
In recent months, Palestinians have been the victims of kidnappings and targeted killings, with an increase in attacks and abductions over the last weeks. Last Saturday, the same Al Baladiya area came under mortar attack, leaving 10 people wounded, while several eminent Palestinians were kidnapped.
On earlier occasions, leaflets with death threats were left on doors in Palestinian neighbourhoods of Baghdad, prompting hundreds to flee to the border between Syria and Iraq.
Palestinians in Baghdad are extremely fearful for their lives and have expressed their wish to leave as soon as possible. But, with more than 350 Palestinians stuck in inhumane conditions on the border between Iraqi and Syria, there seems to be no way out for other Palestinians trapped in the capital.
UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the international community and governments to offer refuge for Palestinians. It has appealed to Israel to allow for admission into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and asked neighbouring Arab states to keep their doors open.
UNHCR has also approached resettlement countries, but so far positive responses have only been received by Canada - which has taken 64 Palestinians, stuck in the Jordanian desert for years - and Syria, which took up 287 Palestinians last May, before closing its borders to other desperate Palestinians.
Some Palestinians fled to Iraq in 1948 and others were born in the country. In 2003, UNHCR registered 23,000 of an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq and believes only about 15,000 of them remain in the country.