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UN Expresses Concern over Palestinian, Iranian Refugees in Iraq - 2003-05-13

The U.N. refugee agency says it is becoming increasingly alarmed by the mistreatment of Palestinian and Iranian refugees in Iraq. The agency says many of the refugees have been robbed and forced from their homes, sometimes at gunpoint.

The U.N. refugee agency says thousands of Palestinian and Iranian refugees are being evicted from their homes by their Iraqi landlords.

Agency spokesman Rupert Colville says in the town of in Dujaila, in central Iraq, about 1,000 Iranian refugees have been forced to flee their homes. The refugees are members of Iran's Arab minority and have lived in southern Iraq, mostly as farmers, since fleeing their homeland 20 years ago.

Mr. Colville says the refugee agency sent a team to the area to try to mediate between local Iraqi tribal leaders and the refugees.

"While the UNHCR team was there, they heard two long bursts of small arms fire in the immediate vicinity," he said. "They also observed a truck carrying about a dozen masked men, giving credence to reports heard earlier, from the refugees who fled to Basra, of a systematic campaign of intimidation aimed at the refugees. Several other agencies who have visited Dujaila believe the refugees are in great danger, a view that UNHR shares."

Mr. Colville says the Iranian refugees have reported frequent gunfire in the area. They also say their food stocks have been depleted, a school destroyed, and their water and electricity supplies suspended for more than two months.

He says the U.N. refugee agency has held talks with Iranian officials about allowing the refugees to return, but so far the discussions have proved unsuccessful. There are 23,000 Iranians living in Iraq.

Another refugee agency spokesman, Ron Redmond, says evictions are also taking place among Palestinian refugees. He says about 1,000 Palestinian refugees in Baghdad have been forced out of their subsidized homes and there are fears that more evictions could follow.

"We fear that more of the 60,000 to 90,000 Palestinian refugees believed to be living in Iraq may lose their homes as other landlords reclaim property they were forced to rent out to the Palestinians for minuscule sums," Mr. Redmond said.

Mr. Redmond added that the Palestinian refugees had received preferential treatment by the former Iraqi regime, paying as little as one dollar a month to landlords who did not dare object. He says now the Iraqi landlords have forced these people out or have sharply raised their rents.

To aid the evicted refugees, the U.N. refugee agency has trucked in emergency supplies, like tents, mattresses and stoves. Refugee agency officials say they have also brought the situation to the attention of U.S. officials in Iraq.