First death registered among refugees at border

A woman from a group of 193 Iranian-Kurd refugees who have been stranded at the border of Jordan and Iraq for the past two and a half years became the first fatality there after she died on 2 October as a result of a disease complication, according to refugees at the camp and international and local relief organisations.

Jordanian doctors said that the victim, 46-year-old Sharkat Palani, suffered from diabetes and a psychiatric illness. She left behind 11 children, ranging in age from nine to 23, and a husband. They all live in the same refugee camp in what is referred to as “no man’s land”.

“We asked the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to help bring her back to the Jordanian Red Crescent [JRC] hospital in Amman where she was treated a month ago, but we were told they could not do it without the medical advice of a Jordanian doctor,” Khabat Mohammadi, acting spokesman for the Iranian-Kurd refugees, said.

On 26 August, ICRC Jordan in collaboration with the country’s authorities succeeded in having Palani transferred to a JRC hospital in Amman for medical care. The woman stayed there until 18 September when doctors approved her discharge on the basis that they could not do anything more for her at that stage of the illness. They provided her with medication to take once back at the camp.

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“We did all we could and provided the patient with the necessary medicines for a follow-up back in the camp,” Dr Atef Awad Alah from the JRC hospital said.

But according to Mohammadi, ever since she returned to the camp and despite the medication, her condition started to deteriorate severely over the past two weeks, prompting refugees to launch a new call for help to the ICRC and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Tragic case

“This is a very tragic case. It is also a tragedy what these refugees have been going through. But without the permission of our Jordanian counterparts we are not allowed to transfer any refugee to a Jordanian hospital,” Kim Gordon-Bates of ICRC Jordan said.

However, the Amman-based UNHCR Iraq office managed on this second occasion to transfer Palani to a hospital in the Iraqi city of al-Qam, about 7km from the border, where she received further medical treatment.

“We took all available measures to continue with her medical care. We feel very sorry about her death,” Anita Raman, UNHCR Iraq reporting officer, said.

Background

The Iranian-Kurd refugees arrived at the Iraq-Jordan border after fleeing al-Tash refugee camp in Iraq’s western Anbar governorate, following clashes there between insurgents and US forces in January 2005.

After being denied entry to Jordan, they remained on the Iraqi side of the border in an area which UNHCR and its partners say is difficult to access because of insecurity.

The refugees’ request for resettlement in Europe or North America has been denied by UNHCR, which has instead offered to move the group to an official camp in Erbil, capital of the northern Iraqi semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. The refugees rejected the offer, citing fear for their personal safety after some of them were reportedly attacked by militants in 2001 in Kurdistan.

Out of a total of 193 refugees living at the border, 106 are under the age of 18.

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