The U.N. refugee agency says it is concerned about a group of 89 Palestinians, including children and elderly people, who are stranded on the Iraqi-Jordanian Border. The UNHCR says the Palestinians were moved from Baghdad during the weekend to the Iraqi side of the border.
U.N. refugee spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis does not hide her dismay at the actions of an international non-governmental organization based in Iraq that facilitated the move. She says two members of the NGO (non-governmental organization), which she will not name, accompanied the group of Palestinians to the border.
"While we have deep understanding of the great difficulties that are faced by Palestinians and many others inside Iraq, we believe that moving from a dangerous situation in Baghdad to an extremely precarious situation at the Iraqi-Jordanian border is exposing the group and many of the children among them to further hardship," she said.
Pagonis says the UNHCR has consistently reminded Palestinian representatives in Baghdad that the Jordanian government has closed its borders to refugees.
Shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, hundreds of Palestinians and Iranian-Kurds made their way to the border to try to get access to Jordan. They were denied entrance to Jordan and remained there for more than two years. Under international pressure, Jordan eventually admitted many of the refugees before closing the border in May 2005.
Pagonis says about 200 Iranian-Kurds remain on the Iraqi side of the border, but UNHCR has great difficulty trying to help them. She says the latest influx of Palestinians only complicates the situation.
"The NGO involved in moving the Palestinians to the border is well aware of the fact that the border is closed to refugees," she said. "Yet, they still volunteered to escort the group from Iraq to the border. They have now been stuck in this rather harsh desert environment since Sunday and we understand that they have got little shelter and very few food supplies. Our ability to protect this group or assist them is extremely difficult, because we have very limited access to that border area."
There are about 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq, and the U.N. refugee agency has been trying to get the Baghdad government to improve their situation. Pagonis says a majority of the Palestinians have lived their entire lives in Iraq. Despite this, she says, the Palestinian refugees do not have residence permits.
She says the Palestinians were protected and treated well under Saddam Hussein and many Iraqis considered this favored treatment unfair. Since the invasion three years ago, she says Palestinians have faced evictions, threats and harassment.