UNHCR calls for evacuation of seriously ill Palestinian children

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called for an immediate evacuation of at least a dozen seriously ill Palestinians, mostly children who are stuck in Baghdad and in a makeshift camp on the Iraq-Syria border. The agency said the children could die if they are not evacuated.

"We currently have 12 cases in urgent need of medical evacuation, the youngest just 15 months old. Without evacuation and life-saving medical help, they could die or suffer lifelong complications," UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said on 29 June.

Last week, a UNHCR team visited al-Walid camp, home to 1,071 Palestinians on the Iraqi side of the border, and identified children suffering from Hodgkin's disease, a hole in the heart and vascular problems, as well as a young man with severe diabetes who is losing his eyesight.

It mentioned a two-year-old with cerebral palsy who has very low immunity, is in urgent need of physical therapy and has stopped eating. A 13-year-old orphaned girl with a spinal injury will be permanently paralyzed from the neck down unless she gets treatment soon. The girl's mother died a few years ago, her father was murdered and her home was burned down by a militia.

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In Baghdad, Redmond added, other urgent cases have been identified, including a 15-month-old boy with spinal problems who is in danger of paralysis from the waist down, and a 14-year-old boy who has had 13 operations but suffers from severe urinary and bladder problems.

“Real tragedy”

A senior Palestinian diplomat in Iraq called on the UN, European countries, the Arab League, and neighbouring countries to step in to find a safe shelter for those "who have burned all their boats and can't go back".

"They are living a real tragedy in all its aspects," Dalil al-Qasous, the Palestinian charge d'affaires in Baghdad, told IRIN in a telephone interview. “There is no safe environment for Palestinians in Iraq. Those who are stranded on the borders and those in Baghdad all face continuing threats by militants."

Al-Qasous said that on 28 June the bullet-riddled body of a Palestinian lawyer who had been monitoring the cases of Palestinian inmates in Iraqi prisons, was discovered in the capital's main morgue and showed signs of torture. He had been kidnapped 10 days before.

Another Palestinian, a sheikh (religious leader) in his 50s, was kidnapped by unidentified militants nearly a month ago as he was walking near his home in the Baladiyat area of eastern Baghdad. There has been no word on his fate since then.

Fears for safety

The UNHCR said it had received reports from Baghdad of Palestinians who refused to go for medical treatment because they feared for their safety.

"We know of some people who refused to seek medical attention for fear of attack and later died in their homes as a consequence," Redmond added.

''We currently have 12 cases in urgent need of medical evacuation, the youngest just 15 months old. Without evacuation and life-saving medical help, they could die or suffer lifelong complications.''

Dr Nasser al-Shaaban, director of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Iraq, said the deteriorated security situation was preventing Palestinians from leaving their houses and going to government hospitals.

"They are afraid of being kidnapped and liquidated if they go to government hospitals, and private ones are very expensive for them," al-Shaaban told IRIN.

“In addition, services like sewage, drinking water and medical care are not available in the Baladiyat area (one of four neighbourhoods in Baghdad where Palestinians are concentrated) and some residents have developed water-borne diseases," al-Shaaban said.

“We are in dire need of medicines to cure these diseases, including cancer which is particularly affecting the elderly,” he added.

"A humanitarian solution is urgently needed for the remaining Palestinians," Redmond concluded.

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