The U.N. refugee agency reports 17 Palestinian men were seized from their apartments in Baghdad by armed men wearing some sort of police uniforms. The UNHCR says it is unable to verify reports that the men have now been released. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond says the Palestinian men were living in apartments rented by the UNHCR. He says the abductions occurred very early in the morning. He says the men were driven away in police vehicles, but their families were left alone.
"Witnesses said the policemen entered the apartments of the Palestinians by force at 5:00 a.m. today, breaking doors and windows and leaving the place a mess. UNHCR is very concerned and is seeking information on the Palestinians' whereabouts from Iraqi authorities. The special representative of the secretary-general in Baghdad is also taking this up with senior Iraqi officials," said Redmond.
There are an estimated 15,000 Palestinians remaining in Iraq. This is less than half of the estimated figure before the US-led invasion in 2003. The UNHCR says the Palestinians are living in constant fear of harassment, killings, and kidnappings in Baghdad.
Redmond tells VOA no one really knows the identity of the uniformed men who took the Palestinians away.
"It is true that there have been numerous reports of uniformed people abducting people in Baghdad," he said. "So, that sort or thing has to be a concern. But, this may or may not have been legitimate. We do not know."
Palestinians had received preferential treatment under the regime of Saddam Hussein. After Saddam was toppled, many were evicted by landlords hostile to their presence.
Redmond says the 17 abducted Palestinians were among those who lost their homes in 2003. He says they have been housed in group apartments provided by the UNHCR and the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.
He says many Palestinians fearful for their lives have tried to flee Baghdad. But, he says it is very difficult for them to move because they lack documentation.
"They cannot get the paperwork required to leave Iraq. And, also, they have an extremely difficult time getting access to surrounding countries," added Redmond. "There are still some 500 Palestinians, for example, stuck at the Syrian border and more than 100 in an isolated desert camp in Jordan."
Redmond says many Palestinians who have tried to leave Baghdad have been turned back by militia.