Iraq: UNHCR deeply disturbed by security forces raid in Palestinian area
UNHCR is deeply disturbed by a raid conducted by the Iraqi security forces on Wednesday (14 March) in a Palestinian area in Baghdad. It left at least one Palestinian dead. Nine Palestinians are reportedly still in detention. Fifty-one people were reportedly detained initially, but released later. The raid prompted at least 41 other Palestinians to flee the capital, and they have joined 850 other Palestinians who have been stranded at the Iraq-Syria border since last May. More are expected to be on their way. Police forces and multinational forces have confirmed that the raid took place as part of the Baghdad security plan.
The dead man was a guard at one of the Baghdad mosques and reportedly suffered at least one gunshot to the head. UNHCR and other organisations have also received allegations of physical abuse and possibly torture being carried out in detention, an allegation denied by the Iraqi authorities. One ex-detainee reported he was beaten on his back and suffered a broken hand. He believed that others had been subjected to worse treatment.
The violence reportedly broke out when the Palestinians tried to resist the raid. They said they were frightened following months of being targeted by various groups. Several have been kidnapped, arrested and killed. They have often expressed concern about the lack of protection by the Iraqi security forces.
Recently, UNHCR has received reports that the families of several detained Palestinians have been forced to pay thousands of US dollars to some members of the Iraqi security forces - allegedly for protection from torture and mutilation of their family members while in detention. Higher sums have reportedly been demanded to ensure their release.
The Palestinians who arrived at the border claimed that their houses had been raided by the special forces, their furniture thrown out of their homes and that they were told they had two days to leave their homes. Others claimed they had been detained and maltreated before being released.
UNHCR is also very much concerned about the safety of NGOs working with the Palestinians. On 13 March one NGO staff dealing with the Palestinian community was abducted in front of his son by unknown men and found dead the next day.
UNHCR is working with crucial partners on the ground in Baghdad to get more information on those killed and the detained Palestinians as well as the NGO staff. At least 186 Palestinians have been confirmed murdered in Baghdad between April 2004 and January 2007. UNHCR believes the number may be significantly higher. Their enclaves in Baghdad have been the target of many militia attacks. Hundreds of Palestinian families have been evicted from their homes with nowhere to go, prevented from seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
UNHCR continues to strongly urge the Iraqi authorities and multinational forces to provide protection to the extent possible to the Palestinian community in Baghdad and urgently appeals to countries in the region and outside to offer temporary relocation of Palestinian refugees from Iraq.