This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 4 April 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Over the weekend, another 35 Palestinians decided to flee insecurity in Baghdad and travelled to the Iraq-Jordan border to join a group of 94 others who arrived there 10 days ago. On Saturday, a group of 25 including 2 children travelled twelve hours from Iraq’s dangerous capital to the border, while on Monday an additional 10 people, three adults and seven children, also made it to the border.
None of the 35 was allowed access into Jordan. UNHCR staff in Baghdad spent several hours on the phone convincing Iraqi officials to allow the 35 to join the other 94 Palestinians near the Trebil border point just inside Iraq, which in the end was allowed. However, their presence at the border is problematic for security and other reasons, and a more appropriate solution needs to be found.
One of the weekend arrivals stated that before leaving they had been in contact with the Palestinians already at the Iraqi border checkpoint and were fully aware of the reluctance of the Jordan authorities to allow Palestinians to cross. They had also been concerned about reports of other Palestinian families who had recently attempted to go to the Iraq-Jordan border being refused permission to join the first group, and eventually having to return to Baghdad. Despite this, they decided to take the risk.
The situation at Trebil border point is not good at all, and the sanitary conditions are very bad. Food and water are in short supply. Border officials have covered some of the shortages, but this is becoming an increasing burden due to limited resources at the checkpoint. Yesterday (Monday), an NGO partner operating in Iraq helped deliver additional food, water and new water tanks. This is the second delivery of relief items that we have been able to get to the Palestinians in the past 10 days.
Meanwhile, the situation faced by Palestinians in Baghdad remains very bad. They are afraid to leave their homes because of ongoing intimidation and attacks. Additionally, there are new reports of verbal threats forcing Palestinians to flee their homes to another area in Baghdad. Some of the Palestinians have expired residence permits and fear being stopped by the police. There have been many incidents of harassment, kidnapping, beatings and killings over the past few months. UNHCR has had some limited contact with the Palestinians in Baghdad, but it has been extremely difficult because no one is safe from the violence.
UNHCR has not yet received a reply to a letter High Commissioner António Guterres sent mid-March to President Talibani asking for increased security and legal protection for refugees in Iraq. Nor have we been able to arrange a meeting with Iraqi officials to discuss the plight of the Palestinians in Iraq.