The U.N. refugee agency says more than 40 Palestinians who fled Baghdad to escape increasing violence, harassment and targeted killings remain stranded at the Iraqi-Syrian border. The UNHCR says no country wants to accept the Palestinians. It is calling for a solution to their plight. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency says the Palestinians are caught in a Catch-22 situation. It says they are not allowed to either leave Iraq or enter Syria.
The UNHCR estimates about 15,000 Palestinians currently live in Iraq, compared to some 34,000 before the war began in 2003. Many arrived after the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948 and 1967 and enjoyed generous financial support from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who championed the Palestinian cause.
UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says Iraqi border guards claim the Palestinians lack proper documentation. He says some members of the group do not have any travel documents, while others are holding expired ones. He says the Palestinians are in a bind because Iraqi authorities in Baghdad have been unwilling to renew their residence permits.
"So, now we have 41 traumatized Palestinians who have spent the past week 250 meters from the Iraqi checkpoint," he said. "They are being helped by a local tribal leader who has given them accommodation, food and water. Iraqi border officials are also giving some help as is the International Committee of the Red Cross. UNHCR has been in contact with the respective authorities, but so far we have been unable to get any solution for these 41 Palestinians."
Redmond says the Palestinians are in a state of limbo. They are not even allowed to enter the no-man's land between Iraq and Syria to join an earlier group of 350 Palestinians who have been stuck there since May.
Redmond says the Palestinians remaining in Iraq are living in a climate of constant fear in Baghdad, with no easy way out of the country.
"But now, many of them have been pushed out of their apartments because they no longer get that subsidy. They cannot afford to stay there," he continued. "They are living in just sort of makeshift settlements or pockets in Baghdad that have been attacked, several times-specifically targeted. So, they are not a particularly welcome group by some quarters in Baghdad."
The UNHCR is urging the Iraqi and Syrian authorities to allow the Palestinians to leave the country. It also is renewing its plea to neighboring and resettlement countries and Israel to offer a solution. Spokesman Redmond says the Palestinians have nowhere to turn.