The United Nations expressed concern on Tuesday about the fate of 89 Palestinians, nearly half of them children, who fled Baghdad and have been stuck in no-man’s-land on the Iraqi-Jordanian border since Sunday, as the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) held the US occupation troops in Iraq “responsible” for the safety of about 34,000 Palestinians living in the country.
Jordan, fearful of a large influx from 34,000 Palestinian refugees living in Iraq, unilaterally closed the border on Sunday after a busload of Palestinians arrived.
The group, which also includes two elderly people and three with medical problems, was in an “extremely precarious situation” in the harsh desert climate, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
“We understand the group has little shelter and meagre food supplies. UNHCR’s ability to protect and assist these refugees is extremely difficult because of our limited access to the border area,” spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.
Some of the Palestinians who are currently stranded at the no- man’s land between Iraq and Jordan told Jordanian newspapers that they were without water, food or shelter.
They said the Jordanian government prevented them from proceeding to the Rweished refugee camp, about 60 kilometres inside Jordanian territory that was set up in cooperation with the United Nations on the eve of the US-led war on Iraq three years ago.
A total of about 350 refugees, mostly Palestinians, are still living at the Rweished camp with the hopes to be allowed to live in Jordan or other Arab countries, according to Yara Sharif, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Amman.
The UNHCR warned of a mass exodus of Palestinians from Iraq.
Yara Sharif confirmed the fear and said a UNHCR panel was on Tuesday appraising the conditions of the refugees prior to discussing how to deal with their case.
“We have concerns that the situation could aggravate with the arrival of more Palestinians,” Sharif said.
UNCHR chief Antonio Guterres sent a message to the interim Iraqi President Jalal Talabani “reminding him of the Iraqi government’s obligation to provide protection” to all communities in the country, Sharif said, adding that Guterres also urged the Iraqi government to come up with measures to “improve the living conditions of Palestinians.”
In a statement to the media, Palestinian envoy in Amman Atta al-Khairy urged an “immediate intervention” by the US administration and the United Nations to put an end to attacks against Palestinians in Iraq.
“Palestinians in Iraq are being exposed to aggression and oppression,” he said.
“This is happening at a time when US troops there should be responsible for the safety of Palestinians, given the situation currently prevailing in Iraq,” al-Khairy added.
Meanwhile Jordan said the unilateral closure of its border with Iraq was an “organizational step.”
According to the official spokesman of the Jordan’s Public Security Department Major Bashir al-Daaja, the Jordanian authorities have unilaterally closed the border with Iraq to traffic in both directions as an “organizational step.”
“There are passengers and people who do not carry valid official documents that prove their nationality. The border was closed to enable them to enter Jordan in a legal manner,” Daaja told Jordan’s Arabic daily Al-Dustour.
Separately Hamas political chief, Khaled Mishaal, who is currently touring a number of Arab countries in the Gulf, called Tuesday on King Abdullah II of Jordan and the Iraqi government to ensure the safety of Palestinian refugees stranded on the Jordanian-Iraqi boarder.
“I call on King Abdullah (II) and the Jordanian government to assist the Palestinian families stranded on their border with Iraq after they were allowed to leave their homes, but denied return,” he told reporters in the Bahraini capital of Manama during a press conference on Tuesday.
“I also call on the Iraqi government to ensure the safety of Palestinians who fled to avoid the current situation there, they can not be held responsible for the actions of the former regime,” he said.
The United Nations reported on Tuesday that killings of more Palestinians in Iraq.
“Over the past week, we have received reports that up to 10 Palestinians have been killed in Baghdad and several have been kidnapped,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.
“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,” Redmond added.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas early in March asked various Iraqi groups and officials to intervene to stop the killings of Palestinians in Iraq, following the killing of four Palestinians who were kidnapped and found dead in Baghdad, including Nawaf Moussa, a Palestinian imam in a Baghdad mosque.
Former ambassador of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to Iraq, Azzam al-Ahmad, was earlier quoted as saying that Palestinian refugees in Iraq are being targeted on a regular basis.
Some 23,000 Palestinians were registered by UNHCR in Baghdad following the United States-led invasion in 2003. Smaller groups, which have not been registered, reside in Mosul in the north and Basrah in the south. In all, the Iraqi government estimates that there are at least 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq, Palestinian official news agency, WAFA, quoted the UN News Center as reporting.
*this article was reprinted from the Palestine Media Center