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UN Refugee Agency Renews Asylum Appeal for Palestinians Stuck in Jordanian Desert - 2004-03-06

The United Nations refugee agency is renewing its appeal for asylum offers to nearly 400 Palestinian refugees stuck in the Jordanian desert after fleeing Iraq.

The U.N. Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees says the Palestinians are suffering great mental distress because of the uncertain future they face.

Kamel Morjane says he is very concerned about their well-being, if a solution for them is not found soon.

"When people are totally in a sort of 'desespoir'-desperate … You do not know how they can … especially as I am saying, this is an urban caseload," he explained. "You have professors, doctors, people who are not used to this kind of life, and who might not sustain this for longer. "

The Palestinians fled Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S.-led war last year. They had been living in Iraq for many years, and had benefited from housing subsidies and other favors from Saddam Hussein. With the fall of Saddam, Iraqis turned their anger against the Palestinians, who were viewed as supporters of the dictator. Many of them faced death threats or were forcibly evicted from their homes.

Since they fled Iraq last year, the refugees have been living in the Ruweishid Camp in Jordan, 50 kilometers from the Iraqi border. In August, Jordan admitted 386 Palestinians married to Jordanians or with family ties in Jordan.

Mr. Morjane says the Jordanian authorities believe they have done their part in giving temporary protection to the Palestinians. Now, he says, they want to close the camp.

"That they cannot guarantee a solution in Jordan. That the UNHCR and the international community should find another durable solution for them - either to go back to Iraq, or to be accepted by other countries. They believe that they have done their share.

Mr. Morjane says Jordan already is host to $1.7 million Palestinian refugees.