More Palestinians arrive at Iraq-Syria border to escape violence in Baghdad
GENEVA, December 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday reiterated its call for a solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees stuck in Iraq after a new group of 41 arrived at the Iraq-Syria border to escape violence, harassment and targeted killings in Baghdad.
The latest group has been stranded on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria since last Saturday, UNHCR's chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, told reporters in Geneva, adding that Iraqi border authorities initially refused to allow them to leave Iraq, citing a lack of proper documentation.
Some members of the group do not have any travel documents, while others are holding expired ones - all as a result of suspension until further notice by the Iraqi authorities of renewals or issuance of residence permits.
In addition, the Palestinians have also been informed by Iraqi border officials that Syrian authorities should first approve their entry. Only then will the Iraqi side allow them to exit and at least enter the no-man's land between Iraq and Syria to join an earlier group of 350 Palestinians who have been stuck there since May.
"So we now have 41 traumatised Palestinians who have spent the past week 250 metres from the Iraqi checkpoint," Redmond said. They are being helped by a local tribal leader who has given them accommodation, food and water. Iraqi border officials have also provided some food and water and the ICRC is supplying tents, blankets, stoves and jerry cans.
"UNHCR has been in contact with the respective authorities, but so far we have been unable to get any solution for the 41 Palestinians," Redmond said.
"We have spoken out repeatedly over the increasingly dire situation in Iraq, particularly for those who have no possibility of leaving the country, nor any safe haven or support network inside Iraq. The Palestinians are such a group.
"We call on the Iraqi and Syrian authorities to allow them to leave the country. We also reiterate our plea to neighbouring and resettlement countries and Israel to offer a solution," Redmond added.
According to Iraqi officials, a recent agreement between Iraq and Syria calls for tight control on the movement of people between the two countries. As a result, exit and entry permits can reportedly only be granted if authorities in both capitals agree. Both border authorities, UNHCR was told, are not in a position to make an exception and allow the Palestinians in, not even into no-man's land.
There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians remaining in Iraq - out of some 34,000 in 2003. They are living in a climate of constant fear in Baghdad. The trip to the border is increasingly dangerous, they cannot get proper documents, and hundreds who have tried to flee are stuck at the Syrian border or in an isolated camp inside Jordan. Those who have left Iraq often did so illegally.