Palestinian refugees targeted by militants receive no help

The deteriorating conditions of Palestinians in Iraq have been highlighted in a report by US-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report, released on 10 September, said that Palestinian refugees living in Iraq are being targeted by mostly Shi’ite militant groups and are also being harassed by the government.

"Since the fall of [former president] Saddam Hussein's government, Palestinian refugees in Iraq have increasingly become targets of violence and persecution," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

"Shi’ite militant groups have murdered dozens of Palestinian refugees, and the Iraqi government has made it difficult for these refugees to stay legally in Iraq by imposing onerous registration requirements," she added.

Fareed Ahmed, a 40-year-old Palestinian refugee living in Iraq, said that he had been affected psychologically as a result of violence.

“When I walk in the street, I’m afraid that they are going to kill me if they discover that I am Palestinian. My wife and children are living like criminals, hiding themselves in a place that was used before as a cellar during the war in 2003,” Ahmed said.

“No one knows we are there and they [his family] just go out in the evenings when there is no possibility for them to be seen. Because after receiving more than 10 threats from unknown sources, we have to take every precaution,” he said.

As an unemployed father of four, Ahmed is in a critical situation. He depends on an old family friend for food. Unfortunately, he said, the friend could not shelter them, afraid that he and his family could be targeted for sheltering Palestinians.

Ahmed has been trying to find a secure place for his family to live after they were forced to flee their home in Iraq, but no country has yet agreed to give them refuge.

Neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan have stopped accepting Palestinians as refugees. They do not even allow them to cross their borders to seek refuge in third countries.

“All embassies either refuse to attend to us or tell us that under current circumstances they cannot give us an entry visa to their countries,” said Ahmed Muffitlak, spokesperson for the Palestinian Muslims Association (PMA) in Baghdad.

“To compound our suffering, we Palestinians have been victims of discrimination even inside government offices. When they [officials] realise that we are Palestinians, the process is long, if not impossible,” Muffitlak added.

At the start of the US-led occupation of Iraq in 2003, some 23,000 Palestinians were registered in Baghdad by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Smaller unregistered groups also reside in the governorates of Mosul in the north and Basra in the south.

The total number of Palestinians in the country is estimated at 34,000, according to the Iraq government.

“We understand the general situation of Palestinians in the country but the situation is the same for thousands of Iraqis as well who are displaced as a result of sectarian violence,” said Salah Fae’ek, media officer in the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

However, Muffitlak said that the problem for Palestinians was more serious as they have no land while Iraqis were in their own country, with rights as nationals.

Militias targeting Palestinians say they do so because Palestinians are supporters of former president Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist party. The militias believe Palestinians would like to see Hussein, who is on trial for genocide, return to power because of the large benefits that they received from his government.

“This is not their land and their presence here will just add more violence because they are supporters of the insurgency in the country,” said Abu Ali, a Shi’ite militant who preferred not to name his militia.

HRW has called on the United States and other members of the multi-national forces in Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Israel to recognise the persecution of Palestinian refugees in Iraq.

“The Iraqi government and the multi-national forces must take immediate steps to improve security for Palestinian refugees in Iraq and end discriminatory and abusive practices by Iraqi officials. Jordan and Syria must open their borders to Palestinian refugees from Iraq,” the report urged.

The PMA in Baghdad says it has reported more than 360 cases of attacks on Palestinians since September 2005, including crimes such as rape and murder.

“If urgent measures are not taken, another crime against humanity will happen in Iraq and the victims are going to be the Palestinians,” Muffitlak said.

AS/AR/ED