United Nations Report: Increasing numbers of Palestinian refugees fleeing Baghdad

As the civil war in Iraq increases, sparked by the three-year U.S.
military occupation of that country, Palestinian refugees that had been
living in Iraq are fleeing in increasing numbers, according to a new
report by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

The number of Palestinians stuck on the Iraq-Syria border after fleeing violence in Baghdad has risen to 80, with more reported on the way.

Last weekend, an additional 39 Palestinians left Baghdad for the border with Syria, where an earlier group of 41, including 19 children, has been stuck just inside Iraq since Dec. 16.

UNHCR received reports over the weekend that the security situation for Palestinians in Baghdad had grown worse over the past week and that more were on the way to the border. Members of the Mahdi army were reported in Palestinian areas in eastern Baghdad, attempting to take over apartments to assert control in the mainly Shia area. The predominantly Sunni Palestinians are increasingly living in fear of attacks.

The 80 Palestinians now stranded on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria are prevented from leaving by Iraqi authorities, and from entering Syria by Syrian authorities. The group has also been denied access to a no-man's land between the two countries, where another 350 Palestinians have been living since last May.

So far, the 80 people stranded just inside the Iraqi border have been taken care of by a generous local tribal leader. UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross have also provided relief items such as blankets, stoves, plastic sheets, tents and food. But weather conditions are rapidly deteriorating and new supplies, including additional tents and kerosene, are urgently needed.

UNHCR has undertaken various demarches with the Iraqi and Syrian authorities, but has been unable to find any solution for the stranded Palestinians. A recent agreement between Iraq and Syria called for tighter control of population movements between the two countries.

Palestinians have been specifically targeted in Iraq and have no safe haven or support network there. There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq – out of some 34,000 in 2003. In Baghdad, they live in a climate of constant fear and are unable to get proper documents. Hundreds who have tried to flee are stuck at the Syrian border or in an isolated camp inside Jordan. And those who have succeeded in leaving Iraq often did so illegally.

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