In deteriorating security environment, Palestinian refugees flee Iraq’s capital

Last month a group of Palestinian families were stranded in no man’s-land between Iraq and Jordan earlier this week after fleeing threats and intimidation in Baghdad. (UNHCR/C. Lynch)


BAGHDAD — The Ministry of Displacement and Migration is preparing an emergency plan to assist Palestinians living in Iraq, many of whom have been the victims of violence or have received recent death threats, according to ministry official Farhan Obaid.

“We’ve been informed by international and local NGOs of their current situation,” said Obaid. “We’re dealing with the problem and we’ll try to prevent more Palestinians from being displaced or killed.”

The step is being taken after international aid agencies and local NGOs expressed concern over the plight of Palestinian expatriates, many of whom have lived in Iraq for decades. Since the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of the country, dozens of Palestinian families have received threats from unknown sources who accuse them of having had loyalties to the regime of former president Saddam Hussein.

Officials at the Baghdad-based Palestinian Muslims Association (PMA) said it had received more than 140 reports of threats against Palestinians in the past four weeks, in addition to 286 reports registered since September 2005. According to PMA spokesman Ahmed Muffitlak, more than 100 Palestinian families received identical death threats last week alone, which demanded they leave Iraq because of their sympathies with the former regime. Crimes committed against Palestinian refugee communities have included rape and murder.

Today, New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling on neighbouring Jordan to open its border to Palestinians fleeing Iraq and urged the international community to resettle refugees in third countries. “Unlike Iraqi nationals,” the rights group pointed out, “Palestinians cannot enter Jordan on tourist visas.” According to HRW, numerous Palestinians have fled Iraq after seeing their compatriots killed in the capital, Baghdad, in recent months.

On Tuesday, UN relief agency UNHCR reported that 35 Palestinians had fled Baghdad over the weekend to the Iraqi-Jordanian border. These have joined a group of 94 others who arrived at the frontier 10 days ago and now live on the border zone just inside Iraq.

According to Obaid, a total of 185 Palestinians have taken refuge at the border, where they are living in squalid conditions. “We’ve asked the Ministry of Human Rights to help guarantee Palestinians’ rights and facilitate the departure of those who want to leave Iraq to neighbouring countries,” Obaid said. The human rights ministry said it had sent a team, with the support of the ministries of migration and the interior, to the border to assist the refugees.

Nevertheless, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said that the situation “has worsened in past weeks and the UNHCR is very concerned.” Palestinians who have remained in Baghdad and other major cities, meanwhile, say the situation has become intolerable. “My brother was killed five days ago,” said Ahmed Yehia, a Palestinian resident of the capital and father of five. “A note was left on his body saying he was killed because he was Palestinian.”

In light of the violent circumstances, many Palestinians are reportedly seeking a way out of the war-torn country. “Thousands of Palestinians have been traumatised by the threats of recent weeks and decided to leave the country, whatever the cost,” Muffitlak said. “Some who’ve already reached the border are living under deteriorating conditions, without potable water, sanitation or food supplies.”

Meanwhile, the UNHCR is trying to arrange a meeting with Iraqi officials to discuss the plight of the Palestinians currently taking refuge at the border. The government estimates the number of Palestinians resident in the country at 34,000. The UNHCR has registered 23,000, mostly in the capital.

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Related Links

  • UN: “More Palestinians leave Baghdad for border”, UNHCR (4 April 2006)