Iraq: UNHCR still concerned about Palestinian refugees in Baghdad
UNHCR continues to be concerned about the situation of Palestinian refugees in Baghdad. More than 800 families have been evicted from their homes by their Iraqi landlords since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. UNHCR has also learned that at least 200 additional families have been given notice by their landlords and must vacate their flats by the end of the school year. This means that by the end of June, the number of evicted families could rise to 1,000. UNHCR has accommodated the evictees in tented camps, hastily established in Baghdad. However, this is only a provisional solution with temperatures soaring well above 50 degrees Celsius. UNHCR has identified vacant government buildings suitable for accommodating the Palestinians. We are currently negotiating with the Coalition Provisional Authority to allow the Palestinians to move there as soon as possible.
Also in Baghdad, UNHCR has started registering Syrian refugees who had also enjoyed protection by the Saddam regime but who have now been left to their own resources. They are a group of about 140 families who had left Syria in the late sixties and early seventies for political reasons. Many of them now find themselves without identity papers and some have been evicted from their homes. UNHCR is registering them to provide them with identity documents and to determine what they intend to do. Many Syrians expressed the wish to go back home, but some fear return to Syria and prefer to be resettled to third countries or naturalized in Iraq.
In another development, a UNHCR team on Monday was able to visit the Al Tash refugee camp for Iranians, 180 km west of Baghdad. It was the first time we had visited the camp since the war started last March. The refugees complained to UNHCR that over the past few weeks the camp has seen a string of violent incidents including shooting, looting and attacks by the local population. UNHCR is urging the Coalition Provisional Authority to ensure security at the camp.
In northern Iraq on Tuesday we distributed relief aid in two Iraqi Kurd villages under a programme to help stabilize communities whose residents were forced from their homes by the previous government. We handed out tents, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting, stoves, jerry cans, lanterns and blankets at Bengawa and Talamater villages in Erbil's southern district of Makhmour to 479 Iraqi Kurds in 64 families who had reoccupied their property. These people were forced from their homes in the mid-1980s as a result of the "Arabization policy" of the former regime of Saddam Hussein and had lived in appalling conditions in collective centres in Erbil and other cities.
After the end of this year's war, the Iraqi Kurds began to return spontaneously to their original villages where basic infrastructure had been destroyed and mud huts blown away by the elements. Some of these people had been refugees in Iran and had gone back to Iraq, but their repatriation was disrupted by the previous government. The return to Bengawa and Talamater came after the Coalition Provisional Authority and local officials helped resolve property disputes in the two villages, negotiating an arrangement with the Arab settlers for a 50-50 sharing of this year's harvest of wheat and barley. However, in many areas in Northern Iraq, property claims remain unresolved.
There are fears that moves by the original owners to repossess them would provoke new tensions. Efforts are under way to put in place arrangements for the peaceful resolution of these problems in a fair and equitable manner and to assist the displaced in areas where they are now in the meantime. Also, many areas where people had been uprooted lack the basic needs to make returns durable, and the presence of land mines and unexploded ordnance is a major concern. Since the end of the war, UNHCR has been expanding its presence in Iraq to deal with the return of more than 500,000 refugees and displaced Iraqis. The number includes around 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran.