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Palestinian Refugees in Iraq to Get Medical Treatment in Syria

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Syria has allowed four seriously ill young Palestinians to enter the country to receive urgently needed medical treatment. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva that the young Palestinians are among 1,500 Palestinian refugees stranded for months on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria.

The four patients are aged between two and 21. They are suffering from severe diabetes, paralysis, Hodgkins disease and heart problems. U.N. refugee agency spokesman Ron Redmond says they have been stranded in a desolate camp in the Iraqi desert for months with no proper medical care.

"The four are now in very critical condition and we greatly appreciate this decision by Syrian authorities," said Redmond. "Two of the four will be allowed to remain in Syria, with some family members, while undergoing urgently needed medical care. The other two will travel on to third countries, where they will receive more specialized care."

Redmond says the UNHCR is monitoring the progress of the four Palestinians. He says the agency also is picking up the expense of their medical care, lodging and rehabilitation.

Redmond says there are at least 16 other critically ill Palestinians remaining in the Iraqi refugee camp. He says life there has become unbearable, with temperatures nearing 50 degrees centigrade. He says the Palestinians are unable to get the specialized medical treatment they so desperately need.

"They include a three-year-old suffering from severe and painful skin rash, a one-year old with serious urinary problems, a two-year-old suffering from cerebral palsy and several other cases," he said. "We continue our search for urgent solutions to get these children out, as most of them might die or be handicapped for life if they do not get proper care soon."

Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq had 30,000 registered Palestinian refugees. They enjoyed a privileged position under Saddam Hussein's rule. Since his overthrow, the Palestinians have become the target of attacks from Iraqis hostile to the favors they had received from Saddam.

About 15,000 Palestinians remain in Baghdad. The UNHCR says they are intimidated, harassed and vulnerable to being killed or kidnapped.

Unlike other persecuted Iraqis who can flee to neighboring countries, Redmond says the Palestinian refugees cannot leave. He says no country is willing to take them.