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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq: UN calls on world community to help Palestinians facing attacks, intimidation

24 January 2007 The United Nations refugee agency today called on the international community to aid Palestinians living in Iraq after 90 panic-stricken men, women and children fled Baghdad, reportedly headed on two rented buses towards the Syrian border, following an increasing spate of attacks and harassment.

“Of all the groups being targeted in Iraq, the Palestinians are the most vulnerable as they literally have nowhere else to flee, and in many cases have been denied travel documents,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) senior Iraq operations manager Andrew Harper said in Geneva. “The international community must act now to help these people. A safe haven needs to be found immediately, outside Iraq.”

Over the past year UNHCR has voiced mounting alarm for the Palestinians, who fled to Iraq following the creation of Israel in 1948. Some received preferential treatment under ousted President Saddam Hussein, and they have become targets for attack since his overthrow in 2003. Nearly 20,000 of them have already fled the country but there are still an estimated 15,000 remaining.

The agency has taken up the latest developments with the Iraqi authorities. Today’s flight followed two incidents yesterday when 30 Palestinian men, 17 of them sheltered in a Baghdad apartment building rented by UNHCR, were taken away by men dressed in Iraqi security force uniforms and driving security vehicles.

They were later released but by today all Palestinians living in the apartment building had abandoned their homes, some fleeing to other parts of the city, while others joined the group headed toward Syria.

“What happened to the men during their abduction remains unclear. But the men and their families were clearly traumatised by the ordeal and afraid to provide any details,” UNHCR said. “The abductions caused great panic among the Palestinian community.

“Some Palestinians told UNHCR they feared attack by militias at any time. Many other Palestinians told UNHCR that they wanted to leave as well, but couldn’t because they lacked proper documents, or because they still have family members in Baghdad who cannot go,” the agency added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with UNHCR support, is preparing to deliver relief items, including tents, blankets, mattresses, lanterns, kitchen sets, stoves and plastic sheets, to the Syrian-Iraqi border in preparation for the new arrivals. Water, kerosene and food are already available.

Last April, Syria allowed a group of 287 Palestinians into the country, but has since turned back more than 500 other Palestinians who fled Baghdad because of harassment and attacks, or after relatives had been killed. Those who try to leave cannot get proper documents.

Despite assistance from UNHCR, ICRC and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Palestinians have been living in extremely difficult conditions at the border sites. UNHCR has tried, to no avail, to secure them entry into Jordan and Syria, return them to the Palestinian territories with Israel’s permission, help in relocation to other Arab States or assist in resettlement outside the region.

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