This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 21 March 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
We are very concerned about a group of 89 Palestinians, including 42 children, two elderly and three people with medical problems, who over the weekend decided to move to the Iraqi-Jordanian border from Baghdad where they had found their situation becoming increasingly difficult. The group was accompanied by two international staff members from an international NGO based in Iraq who facilitated their move to the border.
While we have deep understanding for the great difficulties faced by the Palestinians and many others inside Iraq, we believe that moving from a dangerous situation in Baghdad to an extremely precarious situation at the Iraqi-Jordanian border is exposing the group and the many children among them to further hardship.
UNHCR has consistently reminded Palestinian representatives in Baghdad of the Government of Jordan’s decision to close their borders to refugees. In May 2005, the camp in No Man’s Land between Iraq and Jordan, where so many people suffered for over two years trying to get access to Jordan, was closed. Some 200 Iranian Kurds remain on the Iraqi side of the No Man’s Land area but UNHCR has little means of providing help.
The NGO involved in moving the Palestinians to the border is well aware of this, yet still volunteered to escort the group from Iraq to the border. The group of 89 people have now been stuck in the harsh desert environment of No Man’s Land between Iraq and Jordan since Sunday 19 March. We understand the group has little shelter and meagre food supplies. UNHCR’s ability to protect and assist these refugees is extremely limited, because of our limited access to the border area.
UNHCR has been very concerned about the situation of some 34,000 Palestinians inside Iraq and has been advocating for an improvement of their situation. Over the past months UNHCR has made calls to the Iraqi government to remind it of its obligations to provide protection towards refugees. Recently the High Commissioner, in a letter to Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, asked for increased protection for this refugee population at extreme risk and to expedite the processing of residency permits/ID documents. This would allow this population, the majority of which was born and have lived their entire lives in Iraq, a more reliable and confirmed legal status within Iraq.
There are an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq, 23,000 of whom have been registered by UNHCR in Baghdad. The Palestinian refugees came to Iraq in three main waves – in 1948, in 1967, and in 1991. They were provided with protection and assistance by the former regime and enjoyed a relatively high standard of treatment that some segments of the Iraqi population considered unfair. As a result, the Palestinians have in the past few years faced evictions, threats and harassment.