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 24 March 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR is increasingly concerned about the situation of Palestinians in Baghdad. On Thursday, we heard from the Palestinian community in Baghdad that reportedly over 100 families had received written death threats and that many are in a state of shock and panic. This panic may spread and lead to more Palestinians fleeing Baghdad. They are feeling increasingly trapped, and for security reasons many have stopped going to work and have taken their children out of school. While Iraqis are also affected by the general insecurity in Iraq, Palestinians feel especially vulnerable and targetted as they were perceived to have been treated favourably by the previous regime.
On Tuesday, we mentioned we were concerned about the well-being of a group of 88 Palestinians who had got stuck in No Man’s Land at the Iraqi-Jordanian border after leaving Baghdad because of the insecurity. On Wednesday, this group was relocated back inside the Iraqi border at Trebil by the Iraqi authorities. It is unclear if they will be able to stay there. The group is adamant they do not want to return to any part of Iraq.
UNHCR is trying to ensure the basic needs of the group such as food and water are met but they are now in an area which makes our access and intervention extremely difficult. Late last night our team on the Jordanian side managed to deliver food supplies for 5-7 days plus mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, stoves, jerry cans, lanterns. When we talked to the group on Tuesday they told UNHCR they left Baghdad after a month of increased pressure on the Palestinian community in Al Baladiat in eastern Baghdad after the Samarra bombing on 22 February.
They said the killings, disappearances, and hostage-taking affecting their families, neighbours and friends had become intolerable.
We are working closely with UNAMI [UN Assistance Mission for Iraq] in Iraq, as well as ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] Jordan and Iraq. In addition, UNWRA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] has been alerted to the possibility of an outflow of Palestinians from Iraq.
There are an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq of whom 23,000 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.