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Palestinians on Iraq-Syria border

Briefing notes

Palestinians on Iraq-Syria border

24 November 2006

UNHCR is very concerned about five Palestinians - three men and two boys - who were arrested on Tuesday by Iraqi security forces at Al Tanf border crossing between Iraq and Syria. The five were part of a group of more than 300 Palestinians from Baghdad who have been stranded at a tented site in no man's-land at Al Tanf since early May this year after fleeing the targeted violence and killings of Palestinians in the capital.

Relatives of the men told UNHCR that the five had left the site around mid-afternoon in search for diesel fuel for a generator from truck drivers who pass the border area. When they had not returned by midnight, the families reported them missing to the Syrian border authorities who found out from their Iraqi counterparts that the five had been detained on the Iraqi side.

So far, we have not been able to establish all the facts surrounding the arrest including the arresting authority and detention facility. Over the last three days our staff in Baghdad and Damascus have been following up with Syrian and Iraqi border authorities to get further details of their arrest and to intervene on behalf of the detainees.

The Palestinian group in Al Tanf have suffered from incidents of harassment at the border. In August, our staff from Syria saw Iraqi armoured vehicles with armed guards enter the camp and threaten and intimidate the refugees with their weapons. UNHCR staff intervened and put an end to the situation. In another incident in June, Iraqi security forces harassed a Palestinian man from the group and threatened to take him back to Iraq by force. Eventually, the man was released.

UNHCR has formally approached the Iraqi authorities as well as the Multi-National Forces expressing our concern over these acts of intimidation against the Palestinian group and requesting cooperation to ensure that such incidents are not repeated.

The Palestinians in Al Tanf are among an estimated 10,000-20,000 Palestinians remaining in Iraq - many of whom have tried to flee the country fearing persecution. But getting out is very difficult as many Palestinians in Iraq lack valid identity documents - and have nowhere to renew them - and are being refused entry when trying to flee to neighbouring countries. UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the Iraqi authorities and the Multi-National Forces to provide increased protection for the Palestinians. It has also appealed to countries in the Arab region, Israel, as well as resettlement countries, to provide a humane - if only temporary - solution for this specifically targeted group. These appeals have so far yielded few results.