Palestinians stuck on border with Syria in desperate need of help
AL WALEED, Iraq, June 26 (UNHCR) - A UN refugee agency team has found that the situation of more than 1,400 Palestinians who have fled Baghdad and are stranded in camps on the Iraq-Syria border is deteriorating by the day.
There is an urgent need for medical care as well as an immediate humanitarian solution, UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday, adding: "We urge countries in the region, and further afield to help end their suffering."
A UNHCR team visited Al Waleed camp - home to 1,071 Palestinians - on the Iraqi side of the border last week and identified four children and one young man in urgent need of medical care. They included a youth with a hole in his heart, two children with Hodgkin's disease, one youth about to lose his leg because of a vascular disease and a young man with severe diabetes who is losing his sight.
Almost 400 other Palestinians are stuck at the border or in the no-man's land between Iraq and Syria. UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are trying to provide proper medical care but this is difficult in the snake and scorpion-infested border camps without access to proper water, sanitation, care and shelter.
The refugee agency has established a small infirmary at Al Waleed and the visiting team delivered a month's supply of multivitamins for 120 children and distributed 300 sunshades. But the seriously ill - some of whom are in danger of dying - need hospital treatment.
An added worry is that the security situation is also rapidly deteriorating in the area. Early last week the camp was visited by armed local men who threatened the refugees and demanded some of their supplies. The Iraqi interior ministry put out an arrest warrant, but the culprits are still at large.
The refugees are increasingly scared and frustrated, trapped in the middle of nowhere and unable to understand why nobody or no country can help them or give them access to safety. Several refugees begged the UNHCR team not to forget them and leave them in this hell. No one wants to return to Baghdad.
They welcomed contact with visitors. The children were especially delighted when the UNHCR team started handing out toys, painting materials and sports equipment, including footballs and a volleyball net and balls.
Young Ahmad is recovering from a bad leg injury suffered in a rocket attack in Baghdad, but was keen to play a game of soccer. "Finally I can move my foot, and now I have to sit around in this place. I loved to play - I would play even in this," he said, pointing at the harsh desert surrounding the camp.
High temperatures and sandstorms are adding to the suffering of the Palestinians at Al Waleed. During the day, temperatures in the tents rise to 50º Celsius and there's little shade. There are regular sandstorms.
Water and sanitation infrastructure remains very basic as UNHCR and the ICRC have been hampered from establishing a proper site. Various agencies on the ground have been threatened by local Iraqis and at times blocked from providing assistance to the trapped Palestinians.
In Baghdad the situation remains grim. Many Palestinians are trapped, afraid to move but also afraid to stay. There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians remaining in Iraq - less than half of the figure in 2003.
UNHCR has repeatedly called for international support for the Palestinians but with few results. The refugee agency continues to strongly urge the Iraqi authorities and multinational forces to provide protection to the extent possible to the Palestinian community in Baghdad and at the Iraq-Syria border.
By Anita Raman in Al Waleed, Iraq