UNHCR deeply concerned after fire in Iraq's Al Tanf desert camp
GENEVA, October 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday expressed deep concern after Palestinian refugees were injured when a fire swept through a desert camp in the no-man's land between Iraq and Syria at the weekend.
"We are deeply concerned about the precarious living conditions of Palestinian refugees in the Al Tanf border camp ... after yet another devastating fire swept through the camp on Saturday, injuring 25 refugees and destroying 53 tents housing 11 families," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters.
"This is the third time in less than a year that the camp has suffered serious fires and yet again highlights the need for a humanitarian solution to be found for Palestinians trapped at the border after fleeing Baghdad," added Pagonis.
The spokeswoman, speaking in Geneva, said the 25 refugees were injured while attempting to put out the fire - three suffered first degree burns, five traumatic wounds and 17 had serious breathing problems.
The fire was caused by an unattended fuel stove and spread rapidly through the site, destroying tents, personal documents and possessions of the Palestinians who have been stranded at the camp for the past 18 months. The fire added to an increasing atmosphere of despair and desperation at the camp.
A UNHCR team rushed tents, mattresses and kitchen supplies to the camp, organized refilling of fire extinguishers and explored extra fire prevention measures.
Al Tanf hosts 310 Palestinian refugees who fled sectarian violence in Iraq and have been stranded in the border area since May 2006 after they were denied entry into neighbouring countries. The majority are women and children. Another nearby border camp in the desert area, Al Waleed, hosts an estimated 1,400 Palestinian refugees, with new arrivals every week.
In a separate development in the region, UNHCR on Monday began a mobile registration exercise for Iraqi refugees in north-eastern Syria. A 10-member team is expected to register tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees throughout Syria in the coming year. The mobile registration started in Al Hassakeh governorate, where UNHCR estimates more than 6,000 Iraqi refugees may be registered over a two-month period.
Until now, registration of Iraqi refugees took place only in Damascus. More than 128,000 Iraqis have registered with UNHCR in Syria, with 87,432 registered this year. The mobile registration will help give a clearer picture of the number of Iraqis in Syria, already estimated to be around 1.4 million, and map out their whereabouts which is important for the delivery of assistance and protection.