The U.N. refugee agency says nearly 200 vulnerable Palestinian refugees stranded in the desert along the Iraq-Syria border for the last two years have been accepted for resettlement by Iceland and Sweden. The UNHCR reports the group, which had taken refuge in a kind of no-mans land, includes some of the most vulnerable women and children with urgent medical needs. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency says the Palestinians going to Iceland and Sweden are lucky. For the estimated 2,300 refugees left behind, the future is bleak.
The UNHCR says they are living in desperate conditions in two refugee camps along the Syria-Iraq border. It says they are unable to return to Iraq or to cross the borders to neighboring countries.
UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the stranded Palestinians have little chance of being resettled in a third country. He says they are unwilling to return to the homes they fled in Baghdad because they are afraid they will be killed.
"The Iraqi government has also been approached repeatedly by UNHCR to ensure that protection is provided to these Palestinian enclaves in Baghdad. But, this has been easier said than done in the past because they were specifically targeted, including by mortars and so on," said Redmond. "So, it is a very difficult thing to control."
About 34,000 Palestinians lived in Baghdad while Saddam Hussein was in power. They enjoyed many privileges denied Iraqis. After Saddam's downfall, Iraqis hostile to the Palestinians harassed, threatened, and even killed some of them.
Redmond says only about 10,000 to 15,000 Palestinians remain in Baghdad.
He says over the last two years, the UNHCR has been pleading with nations to come to the rescue of these people, especially those with urgent medical needs.
He cites the case of a 30-year-old widow, with three children as typical of those who are unable to find a new home.
"Her husband was killed while trying to help the victims of a bombing. Another bomb went off and killed him. Their four-year-old son was with his father when this happened and saw his father killed before his eyes and so now has severe emotional problems. So, in that particular case, we are looking for a resettlement country that can help a female-headed household with children who suffered severe trauma," continued Redmond.
Redmond says the health situation of many of the refugees is increasingly dire and proper medical care is lacking. He says medical problems range from diabetes and birth defects to kidney problems, cancer and serious trauma. In the past 14 months, he says 12 Palestinian refugees have died in the camps.