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UNHCR Concerned About Fate of Palestinian Refugees on Iraq-Jordan Border - 2003-11-28

United Nations refugee officials say they are increasingly concerned about the fate of more than 400 Palestinian refugees who have been stranded on the Jordan-Iraq border since late April.

The U.N. refugee agency reports an estimated 1,800 people are living in refugee camps in eastern Jordan.

It says more than half of them are stuck in no-man's land.

UNHCR Spokesman Peter Kessler says most of the refugees are Iranian ethnic Kurds, who fled Iraq's Al Tash refugee camp. But, he says the agency is most worried about the welfare of more than 400 Palestinians who had lived in exile in Iraq.

"The Kurds themselves, of course, are used to the rigors of refugee camp life, having lived in refugee camps for 20 years," he said. "The Palestinians are middle class people, who have been forced to flee, or have left apartments or houses in the Baghdad area to try to enter Jordan, and they have been stopped at or near the border."

Mr. Kessler says hundreds of Palestinians who had lived in Iraq for decades fled shortly after the war ended because of insecurity.

He says some were attacked by Iraqis who were hostile to the privileged position the Palestinians had occupied under Saddam Hussein's regime.

But, most, he says, left after they were evicted from their homes by landlords who wanted to rent their property for higher prices.

U.N. refugee officials say the Palestinians are sheltered in canvas tents, and their condition is worsening with the approaching winter.

Another UNHCR spokesman, Kris Janowski, says the agency wants countries in the region to accept the refugees.

"We have essentially appealed to various countries to take some of them, especially countries that at some point had given them travel documents, for example, Egypt," said Kris Janowski. "We also are looking at options of repatriating some of these people to the Palestinian territory and to Israel, and we will remain in touch with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on this, if they are willing to go back there."

In August, Mr. Janowski says, Jordan had accepted some of the Palestinians with Jordanian spouses, but its capacity to absorb more is reaching its limits.