Thirteen Palestinians fleeing Iraq drown after boat capsizes

Last weekend, 13 bodies, most likely of Palestinian refugees from Iraq, were recovered on the coast of Italy after their boats, carrying at least 127 persons in search of safety, had broken apart. These tragedies highlight the failure of the international community to protect Palestinian refugees.

Saving the lives of Palestinian refugees persecuted in and fleeing Iraq is a priority. Emergency temporary protection and relocation opportunities must be provided immediately, until repatriation becomes possible.

Badil calls upon the PLO to request all states, in particular Yemen, to allow Palestinian refugees from Iraq to enter their territory to seek temporary protection and/or relocation. Badil also calls upon states, the United Nations, the PLO and civil society organizations to bring Israel into compliance with its obligations so that Palestinian refugees can exercise their right of return and find safety and stability through durable solutions.

Few countries, such as Syria, Jordan, Brazil and Canada, have generously taken in Palestinian refugees, but none have shown willingness to welcome all or most Palestinian refugees from Iraq. Fewer still are willing to exert pressure on Israel to allow the refugees to return to their homes of origin in Israel and the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In October, Sudan’s president, Omar Bashir, announced that Sudan was willing to take in Palestinian refugees stranded on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Why not Sudan?

While the details of the Sudanese offer have remained sketchy, it has already been rejected by Palestinian refugees from the al-Tanf camp who argue that Sudan is not a sustainable option. Sudan has itself generated over 2.5 million refugees and its government is guilty of serious human rights violations. While Palestinian refugees in the al-Walid camp have not yet made their final decision, they too appear unwilling to risk their lives by relocating to Sudan.

In many ways, Sudan is not a safe place and not able to accommodate the refugees. More conflict between the government and rebel groups is expected, and resources are inadequate to meet the needs of the refugees, many of whom have undergone traumatic events and require special medical assistance. Operations of international aid agencies, including UNHCR, are restricted as a result of the international sanctions imposed on the government of Sudan, and NGO assistance is generally not facilitated in government controlled areas.

Sudan, moreover, is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The legal status of Palestinian refugees in Sudan is therefore unclear, and concerns about arbitrary treatment by the government are justified.

Yemen: a possible option?

Another and perhaps more promising option might be found in Yemen. Indeed, Yemen has informally indicated its willingness to allow Palestinian refugees from Iraq to enter its territory for temporary protection and/or en route to other destinations.

This option is likely to be accepted by most refugees and access of UNHCR and other organizations would be guaranteed, including to refugees with special needs. Officials in Yemen have indicated that they are waiting for a formal request from the PLO, in order to open their borders to Palestinian refugees from Iraq. Badil believes that the PLO and UNHCR should do their utmost to ensure that Palestinian refugees from Iraq can seek protection in Yemen, and until their right to return to their homes of origin becomes possible.

BADIL calls upon states, the PLO, UNHCR, UNRWA and NGOs working for Palestinian refugees to:

1) Provide Palestinian refugees in and from Iraq with temporary protection and/or relocation opportunities, especially in Yemen which has indicated its willingness to welcome the refugees;

2) Inform, consult and respect the wishes of the refugees;

3) Request Israel to permit the immediate return of Palestinian refugees from Iraq to their homes of origin and redouble efforts for durable solutions;

4) Ensure that any from of protection recognizes, respects and protects the right of return of Palestinian refugees, for example through registration with UNRWA of entitled but previously unregistered persons.

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