New group of Palestinians stuck in no-man's land between Iraq and Syria
This story was edited 11 October: number of Palestinians corrected from 24 to 19.
GENEVA, October 7 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Friday it was very concerned about the safety of Palestinian refugees in Iraq, some of whom have been forced to leave the capital Baghdad as a result of increased harassment and intimidation.
On Wednesday, a group of 19 Palestinians, including children, women and two semi-paralysed men, left Baghdad for the Syrian border. The group tried to enter Syria, but has so far not been able to do so, and is currently in no man's land between Tanf on the Syrian side and El Walid on the Iraqi side.
"We are discussing the issue with both the Iraqi and Syrian authorities," said Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR's deputy director for the Central and South-west Asia, North Africa, the Middle East. "We are appealing to the Syrians to allow access, while at the same time urging the Iraqi authorities to enhance the protection of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq."
In the meantime, a team of Syria-based officials from UNHCR and UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestinians), including an UNRWA doctor, was dispatched to the Iraqi-Syrian border on Thursday. With the cooperation of the Syrian border authorities, the team has provided the stranded group with a two-week supply of food including daily meals that can be cooked in a building nearby, water, medicine and milk, as well as mattresses, blankets, sanitary supplies and other non-food items.
By Friday, the team had also managed to have the group transferred to another slightly more secure area in no man's land. The women and children had initially been spending the night in a concrete building close to the main road where trucks and other vehicles thunder past, and the men had been sleeping out in the open.
UNHCR estimates that some 23,000 Palestinians are presently still living in Iraq. Most of the older generations moved there after the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, whereas most of the younger ones were born in Iraq and have never lived anywhere else. Since the fall of the former regime, the Palestinian community in Baghdad has been facing increased pressure.
In 2003, some Palestinians fled to neighbouring Jordan, fearing insecurity during the conflict, and discrimination after it was over. Some of them were allowed to enter Jordan, but others who arrived later were stuck in the no man's land between the two countries until May of this year when the entire group of 743 people (of various nationalities) was transferred by the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization and UNHCR to Ruweished camp some 60 km inside Jordan.