Stranded Palestinians turn down Sudanese asylum offer

A map showing al-Tanf camp on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq. (IRIN/Google Maps)

DAMASCUS, 10 October (IRIN) - Most of the over 300 Palestinian-Iraqi refugees stranded for the past 18 months at the makeshift al-Tanf refugee camp on the Syrian side of the Iraq-Syria border have rejected an offer of asylum in Sudan.

The Sudanese government made an offer 8 October to take in the 310 Palestinian refugees, who are living in pitiful conditions at the camp.

“The [Sudanese] president agreed to the request of both Hamas and Fatah to accommodate them and we are going to inform the Arab League and then make our preparations,” said a Sudanese Foreign Ministry official.

The proposal, the first official offer of resettlement for refugees at al-Tanf camp received by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) despite months of talks, was rejected by most of the al-Tanf refugees.

One of them, Ahmad Hassan, told IRIN that a camp meeting was held on 8 October to discuss the offer: “Out of 84 families just 30 want to go to Sudan.”

“Too risky”

“They think Sudan is too risky and that after a few months there may be a war there. They want to go somewhere safe where they can work and live in peace,” he said.

The UNHCR confirmed that the Sudanese offer had been made but pointed out that no agreement had been reached.

“Sudan has offered resettlement to the refugees in al-Tanf camp. There are ongoing discussions and this is a possibility but nothing has been finalized yet,” said Dalia al-Achi, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Syria.

The UNHCR rejected the suggestion that Sudan — a country where four years of civil war in Darfur has displaced 2.5 million people — might be an unsuitable resettlement country.

“If Sudan can be a resettlement country and a safe place for these refugees, why not consider the option?” said Al-Achi. She said violence was largely restricted to southern and western Sudan and that Khartoum, where the refugees could go, was peaceful.

According to reports, a final decision on resettlement will rest with the refugees themselves.

“Ultimately it is up to the refugees to accept it or not. Hamas has initiated contact with them to see who wants to leave. There is also coordination with Syria and an envoy of President Bashir [of Sudan] has been to Damascus,” Izzat al-Rishq, a Hamas official, told Reuters.

The Palestinians at al-Tanf camp have been effectively detained by Syria after fleeing violence in Iraq. The Syrian authorities have refused them entry as they say they are already struggling to cope with the estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in the country.

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