UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SYRIA: More Palestinian refugees from Iraq arrive at border
DAMASCUS, 18 May 2006 (IRIN) - Despite an announcement by Syria that it would not receive any more Palestinian refugees on its territory, dozens of those fleeing violence in Iraq have continued to make their way to the border, hopeful of admittance.
Some 188 Palestinian refugees have been waiting at the Syrian-controlled al-Tanaf border checkpoint for more than five days, awaiting permission to enter the country from Iraq. This comes in the wake of a decision by Damascus last week to allow in 287 fellow refugees, who had been stranded at the border for more than two months, after Jordan refused them entry.
The Syrian decision, however, has encouraged other Palestinian refugees in Iraq – many of whom face intimidation and violence –to follow suit, hoping to find refuge in Syria.
The hopes of many were dashed on Tuesday, however, when Damascus refused to grant entry to new refugee groups, fearing this would lead an estimated 34,000 Palestinian refugees living in Iraq to head for Syria, already home to about 500,000 Palestinian refugees.
One foreign ministry official, preferring anonymity, said on Tuesday that the earlier decision to accept stranded Palestinians “doesn't cover any other Palestinians”. He went on to say that the move represented a “humanitarian gesture”, given the Jordanian refusal to accept them and the bad weather refugees faced on the border.
Damascus initially agreed to take the refugees after an appeal from Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar, whose Hamas-led government has strong ties to the Syrian authorities.
On 9 May, 244 Palestinians – including 70 children and 41 women – entered Syria at the al-Tanaf border crossing and were transferred to the al-Hol camp at Hasaka, roughly 700 km northeast of Damascus. The following day, another 43 were allowed in, bringing the total number of Palestinians allowed to enter Syria so far this year to 305.
The number of refugees crossing al-Tanaf is expected to increase as new batches arrive from Iraq. “The total number of refugees at al-Tanaf is now 188, including five pregnant women and a large number of children,” said Abdel-Hamid al-Ouali, Syria representative of UN refugee agency UNHCR.
While “there has been no decision yet of granting them entry”, added al-Ouali, the UNHCR has “erected some 60 tents for the refugees on the Syrian side and is providing them with food, medicine, water and blankets”.
Palestinians in Iraq have faced deteriorating security conditions since the 2003 US-led invasion of the country. Many Palestinians – who had been favoured under the former regime of Saddam Hussein – report being harassed and attacked by Iraqis, many of whom carry longstanding resentments for earlier Palestinian privileges.
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