UN expresses concern over plight of Palestinians living on Iraqi-Syrian border

Palestinians stranded at the Syrian border

18 March 2008 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today warned that the situation of the more than 2,700 Palestinians who have been stranded and are living in inhumane conditions in two camps on the Iraqi-Syrian border continues to deteriorate.

“Over the past 22 months, UNHCR has been calling for urgent humanitarian solutions for this group and – even if only temporary – relocation elsewhere, preferably in the Arab region,” the agency’s spokesperson Ron Redmond said at a press briefing in Geneva.

In 2006, Canada received 64 Palestinians from Iraq, while last year, Brazil accepted 107. Recently, Chile, which itself was once a refugee-producing country, offered to resettle an initial group of 117 Palestinians, who are expected to leave Iraq for the South American nation in April.

Additionally, Sudan has extended an offer to accept 2,000 Palestinians, and UNHCR and Palestinian representatives are currently working to finalize a plan to allow the operation to take place.

The agency welcomed these responses from third countries, but reminded countries that there is a further need to help in dealing with acute cases.

“The solution, however, will not help all of the Palestinians in the camps, where the health situation has become increasingly dire as proper medical care and viable alternatives are lacking,” Mr. Redmond observed.

One dozen refugees have lost their lives in the past 14 months; most recently a 25-year-old man who died two weeks ago in Al Waleed camp, most likely due to food poisoning. His family’s case had first been put forward to be urgently resettled on medical ground last July.

These deaths underscore the pressing need for human solutions and proper medical care for these destitute Palestinians, UNHCR said.

Camp inhabitants suffer from conditions ranging from diabetes, birth defects, kidney problems, cancer and serious trauma, but the closest proper medical facility is over 400 kilometres away and there is no ambulance service. Iraq’s neighbours have stringent entry requirements, especially for Palestinians.

The Palestinians fled to Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948. Some received preferential treatment under Saddam Hussein and have become targets for attack since his overthrow in 2003. Of the nearly 34,000 Palestinians in the war-torn country in 2003, UNHCR estimates that 10,000 to 15,000 still remain in the country.

Al Waleed camp now houses more than 2,000 refugees while Al Tanf camp has doubled in size since last October and now has 710 inhabitants.


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