Iraq: UNHCR seriously concerned for thousands of Palestinians
UNHCR is seriously concerned over the safety of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Iraq, some of whom have reportedly been directly targeted and killed in the continuing violence there. Over the past week, we have received reports that up to 10 Palestinians have been killed in Baghdad and several have been kidnapped. The Palestinian neighbourhood of al-Baladeyat was the scene of much violence recently until US military forces intervened.
A Palestinian human rights group in Baghdad advised us yesterday that many members of the Palestinian community are thinking of leaving the city and heading toward the borders to seek refuge abroad. Some 23,000 Palestinians were registered by UNHCR in Baghdad following the war in 2003. Smaller groups, which have not been registered, reside in Mosul and Basrah. In all, the Iraqi government estimates that there are at least 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq.
Many of them are in a very precarious situation. Some Iraqi parties consider the Palestinians, Sunni Muslims, as enemies - although they are not involved in internal strife. The Palestinian refugees came to Iraq in three main waves: in 1948, in 1967, and in 1991. They were provided with protection and assistance by the former regime and enjoyed a relatively high standard of treatment that some segments of the Iraqi population considered unfair. As a result, the Palestinians have in the past few years faced evictions, threats and harassment. Many Palestinian families have thus left Baghdad to Gaza or to Syria and Jordan.
UNHCR through its partners provides humanitarian assistance to vulnerable refugees in Iraq, and we are regularly in contact with the Iraqi authorities in seeking to uphold protection principles for refugees. We also have projects aimed at strengthening the capacity of the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration to effectively discharge its responsibilities toward refugees in Iraq.