UNHCR concerned about conditions for Palestinians at border camp
GENEVA, May 15 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency 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," UNHCR spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.
A UNHCR team visited Al Waleed on Sunday to assess the living conditions and needs of the Palestinians in the camp, which 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.
"There is no excuse for the suffering of the Palestinians living in Al Waleed camp. They have fled death threats and the murder of family members only to face this deadly environment in Al Waleed," said Michelle Alfaro, a Damascus-based UNHCR protection officer who visited the camp on Sunday. She warned that more people could die if they did not get medical treatment.
The UNHCR team could only give first aid treatment to some pregnant women, a Palestinian man who had been kidnapped and badly tortured in Baghdad and to a suicidal woman traumatized by the murder of her son and husband.
Living conditions at Al Waleed 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 go there on an infrequent basis. The UNHCR team that visited Al Waleed at the weekend gained access via Syria.
Water is trucked to the camp on a daily basis, 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. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly trucks in water to Al Waleed, in addition to providing tents, sanitation and hygiene kits.
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.