UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Palestinians say gov't cannot protect them
BAGHDAD, 12 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - Palestinian refugees in Iraq say that despite renewed assurances of protection from the Iraqi president, they believe they will continue to be persecuted and attacked.
On Saturday, Jibril Rajoub, a senior security adviser of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, told IRIN that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had recently pledged that his government would protect Palestinians living there.
“We handed over a letter from President Mahmoud Abbas to President Talabani in which we asked for better protection for Palestinians in Iraq and we got a clear message that Palestinians would be treated equally with Iraqis,” Rajoub said.
Rajoub added that Talabani told him that attacks directed against Palestinians in Iraq were individual acts and not part of any wider strategy.
Palestinian refugees in Iraq have faced mounting violence from insurgents, militias and sometimes official security forces since the US-led invasion of the country in March 2003.
As such, Palestinians in Iraq are not convinced that Talabani’s pledge will change anything.
“It is easy to say such things but very hard to implement them on the ground. Iraqi officials themselves have acknowledged that government security forces are highly infiltrated by militiamen and gangs,” said Omran Khalid Wadi, a 44-year-old Palestinian refugee who lives in Baghdad.
“The best thing is to help us to get out of this country, this would be highly appreciated,” Wadi added.
Targets for militants
Thousands of Palestinian refugees fled to Iraq from the newly created Israel in 1948. Some of them enjoyed preferential treatment by the government of the deceased former president Saddam Hussein, but have become targets for militants since Saddam’s overthrow in 2003.
Since then, Palestinians have been fleeing or trying to flee Iraq.
Syria has been the most welcoming country to them and already hosts 432,000 Palestinian refugees. In addition, it hosts up to a million Iraqi refugees.
However, with the extra burden on infrastructure and services that some 1.5 million Iraqi refugees is putting on neighbouring countries, Jordanian and Syrian border controls have been tightened and many Palestinians trying to flee Iraq are being turned back at the borders.
Last month, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that nearly 700 Palestinian refugees were stranded at the Iraq-Syrian border and living in inhumane and insecure conditions in the desert.
UNHCR said a group of 356 Palestinians has been living in a makeshift camp in no-man’s land between Iraq and Syria since May. A second group of more recently arrived Palestinians, who now number around 340, is stuck in another improvised camp, al-Waleed, on the Iraqi side of the border.
“The stranded Palestinians are still suffering under the desert low temperatures as they are living in tents and Syrian authorities are still denying access to all of them,” Dalil al-Kasous, the Palestinian Charge d’Affaires in Baghdad, said.
Al-Kasous added that anti-Palestinian violence had claimed the lives of nearly 190 refugees since 2003, while 40 others were still being held in Iraqi and US custody.
Qussai Mohammed Saleh, 32, is a Palestinian truck driver who was born and married in Iraq. He now lives with his wife and two children in a tent in the al-Waleed border camp.
“I call upon all Arab countries and good people in the world to pay attention to us and put an end to our ordeal. We’ve suffered a lot and we can’t stand it any more,” Saleh told IRIN. “Of course we can’t go back and depend on government protection. The government can’t protect its own people, how can it protect us?”
Saleh has been at al-Waleed since last December, after facing continual harassment from militants as well as from US and governmental forces soon after the fall of Saddam, he said.
“But the last one [attack] really terrified us when Shia militia broke into an apartment in the Baladiyat area of Baghdad last year and kidnapped three [Palestinian] men. The following day we found their bodies dumped in the street. They were all killed execution-style,” he said.
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