More Palestinians fleeing Baghdad arrive at Syrian border
At least 73 frightened Palestinians have arrived in El Waleed, at the Iraq-Syrian border, after fleeing Baghdad earlier this week following the detention and release of 30 Palestinian men on Tuesday.
Their arrival brings to 593 the number of Palestinians stuck at the Iraq-Syria border, many of them for months. Syria has denied them access and they refuse to return to Baghdad, where Palestinians have been the target of numerous attacks.
UNHCR has not yet had a chance to talk to the newly arrived refugees, who arrived at the border on Wednesday night. Along with ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and other partners, we are ensuring that enough food, water and relief items are on site. Additional tents are also being delivered.
Conditions at the border are atrocious. It's cold. Clean water has to be trucked in. There is limited access to food. Tents are crowded and unhygienic. Tensions are high. The refugees feel very insecure and some report having been victimized by security officials near the border. The group is in a very vulnerable situation with no solution in sight.
The most recent developments occur against a backdrop of unrelenting violence against Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Baghdad. There are an estimated 15,000 Palestinian refugees remaining in Baghdad, less than half the number prior to 2003. Since 2003, many have been kidnapped, tortured or killed, and violent threats against them have become routine. Estimates of the number killed vary widely. In late December, the Palestinian embassy in Baghdad provided UNHCR with a list of 161 Palestinians killed in Baghdad since 2003. In a 20 January statement, the Head of Refugee Affairs for the Palestine Liberation Organisation stated that 520 Palestinians have been killed, and another 140 wounded by militias inside Iraq since March 2003.
Since last month, targeted killings and attacks on the homes of Palestinians in the al-Baladiyat, al-Doura, al-Hurriya and al-Jadida neighbourhoods of Baghdad rose dramatically. UNHCR has received reports of least 34 Palestinians killed and five kidnapped over the past two months. There have been at least two attacks on Palestinian residential compounds over the past two months, including an armed assault on the Palestinian neighbourhoods in al-Baladiyat on 13 December in which at least nine Palestinians were reportedly killed and 20 wounded. We have several reports of kidnappings and murders of Palestinians, some of whose bodies were found with signs of torture.
Death threats have increased. Harassment at work has prompted some to stop working, leaving them without a livelihood. With militia threats increasing, families are continually moving between existing Palestinian settlements and abandoned buildings or makeshift dwellings in Sunni-dominated areas less accessible to Shi'a militias. And many are trying to leave Iraq altogether.
UNHCR is also deeply concerned about the continued survival prospects of 280 Syrian Arabs registered with us in Baghdad who are also facing increasing militia-led violence. These refugees arrived in successive waves beginning in 1954, and were granted asylum in Iraq.
UNHCR has repeatedly urged all parties, including the multinational forces, the Ministry of Interior and Iraqi security forces, to provide more protection and help to refugees throughout the country. We also need more rapid and transparent information on any of those detained during military or police actions - particularly with the increase in abductions by unidentified militiamen posing as security agents.
We again urge the international community, including neighbouring and resettlement countries, to help us find solutions and safety for refugees unable to remain inside Iraq.