BAGHDAD — Thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Iraq have reportedly been attacked and discriminated against, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
“Over the past week, we’ve received reports that up to 10 Palestinians have been killed in Baghdad and several have been kidnapped,” UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, Ron Redmond, said.
The Palestinian Muslims Association (PMA) in Baghdad says it has received more than 270 reports of attacks on Palestinians since September, including crimes such as rape and murder. “Families are being forced out of their homes and women are being raped in front of their husbands because they are Palestinians,” said PMA spokesman Ahmed Muffitlak.
Palestinians currently residing in Iraq arrived in three waves: in 1948, in 1967 and in 1991, due to the ongoing conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, some 23,000 Palestinians were registered in Baghdad by the UNHCR. Smaller unregistered groups also reside in the governorates of Mosul in the north and Basra in the south. The total number of Palestinians in the country is estimated at 34,000, according to government figures.
A large number of Palestinians are Sunni Muslims, the minority religious group formerly favoured by ousted leader Saddam Hussein. The last month has seen growing violence between Iraq’s Sunnis and the Shi’ite majority in the wake of the 22 February bombing of a Shi’ite shrine by unknown perpetrators in the city of Samarra, just north of Baghdad. “Some Iraqi parties consider the Palestinians - as Sunni Muslims - enemies, although they’re not involved in internal strife,” Redmond said.
Farhan Obaid, an official at the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, pointed out that Palestinians’ favoured position under the former regime was the main reason for the resentment and current ill treatment. “During the Saddam Hussein era, Palestinians received protection from the government, including support in the form of food parcels, schools and health care,” Obaid said. “Sometimes they lived in conditions much better than the Iraqis, and this is the main reason for the intensification of violence against them.”
According to Obaid, hundreds of Palestinians have left Iraq due to rising discrimination and violence since 2003. He added that his ministry was working with the UNHCR to register all remaining Palestinians and provide them with minimum security, but pointed out that this would take time.
Officials at the Ministry of Human Rights, meanwhile, insisted that all residents of Iraq - not just Palestinians - were suffering under the current wave of violence. “The insecurity, which has led to violence on the streets, isn’t a problem only for Palestinians, but a general problem that is affecting the entire population,” said Ahmed Sattar, a senior ministry official.
Nevertheless, the exodus of Palestinians from Iraq appears to be escalating. “Dozens of Palestinians are leaving the country every week trying to seek refugee in other countries,” said the PMA’s Muffitlak, “because Iraq is unsafe for us now.”
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