CAIRO — Amid widespread sectarian violence in Iraq, Palestinian refugees in Iraq face particularly grave security threats, including targeted killings by mostly Shi’a militant groups and harassment by the Iraqi government, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Countries in the region such as Jordan and Syria must open their borders to Iraqi Palestinians at risk, and the international community must urgently respond to their plight by providing financial assistance to the host countries and third-country resettlement opportunities on a humanitarian basis.
“Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, Palestinian refugees in Iraq have increasingly become targets of violence and persecution,” said SarahLeah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Shi`a militant groups have murdered dozens of Palestinian refugees, and the Iraqi government has made it difficult for these refugees to stay legally in Iraq by imposing onerous registration requirements.”
The 42-page report, “Nowhere to Flee: The Perilous Situation of Palestinians in Iraq,” documents the drastic deterioration in the security of the estimated 34,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. Since then, militant groups have targeted Iraqi Palestinians for violence and have evicted them from their homes, largely because of the benefits these refugees received from Saddam Hussein’s government and their perceived support for the insurgency.
Available evidence indicates the involvement of Shi`a militant groups in attacks against Palestinian refugees, which have intensified since the bombing of the Shi`a al-`Askariyya mosque in Samarra on February 22. Since then, more than a dozen Palestinian refugees have been murdered, including the two brothers of the former Palestinian attache in Baghdad, and entire Palestinian refugee communities have received death threats. A militant group calling itself the “Judgment Day Brigades” issued death-threat leaflets in March, stating they would kill all Palestinians who did not depart Iraq within 10 days.
Since 2003, successive Iraqi governments have done little to protect Palestinian refugees, and have often displayed open hostility to them, claiming they are involved in terrorism and supporting the insurgency. Ministry of Interior officials have arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured, and in a few cases forcibly disappeared Palestinian refugees. The Ministry of Interior has also imposed onerous registration requirements on Palestinian refugees, forcing them to constantly renew short-term residency requirements and subjecting them to harassment, rather than affording them the treatment they are entitled to as refugees formally recognized by the Iraqi government.
The neighboring countries of Jordan and Syria, while providing refuge to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens fleeing Iraq, have kept their borders firmly closed to Palestinian refugees who reach their borders. On the few occasions that Jordan and Syria have allowed Palestinian refugees fleeing Iraq to enter their territory - as Jordan did briefly in 2003 - they have confined the Palestinian refugees to camps and immediately closed their border again. In Jordan, several hundred Iraqi Palestinians admitted in 2003 remain confined to the wind-swept, isolated and barren al-Ruwaishid camp, under constant guard and with no resolution of their plight in sight. Israel has refused two requests by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to allow Palestinian refugees from Iraq with origins in Gaza to return to the Gaza Strip.
Human Rights Watch called on Iraq, the United States and other members of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, as well as Jordan, Syria, Israel and the broader international community to recognize that Palestinian refugees in Iraq are being targeted for persecution, and to contribute to a solution of the problem. The Iraqi government and the Multi-National Forces must take immediate steps to improve security for Palestinian refugees in Iraq and end discriminatory and abusive practices by Iraqi officials. Jordan and Syria must open their borders to Palestinian refugees from Iraq.
The Palestinian refugee crisis in Iraq needs a regional approach. Consistent with respect for the right to return, Israel should begin by allowing those Palestinian refugees and their families originally from Gaza to return to Gaza now. The Gulf states, which are currently not hosting significant Palestinian refugee populations, also should share the refugee burden. The broader international community must also assist, either through financial assistance to the host countries or by offering third-country resettlement on a humanitarian basis.
“Jordan and Syria urgently need to open their borders to Palestinian refugees fleeing Iraq, and the international community should provide financial assistance to help them host these refugees,” said Whitson. “Jordan and Syria can’t just pick and choose the refugees they are allowing to enter. They must admit the Palestinians at risk as well as the Iraqis.”
In October 2005, the Human Rights Watch report entitled “A Face and a Name: Civilian Victims of Insurgent Groups in Iraq” documented the widespread unlawful attacks against civilians by insurgent groups in Iraq.