IRAQ: UN concerned for persecuted Palestinians
Palestinians in Iraq face threats from security forces and militias.
BAGHDAD, 25 January 2007 (IRIN) - There is increased international concern about the plight of Palestinians living in Baghdad following the arrest on 16 January of 30 Palestinians by Iraqi security forces in two neighbourhoods of the capital, Baghdad. Although they were released shortly after, the UN is concerned that Palestinians have been systematically targetted and threatened by authorities and militias.
However, despite their release, a group of up to 90 terrified Palestinian men, women and children fled Baghdad on Wednesday heading toward the Syrian border, where the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says more than 500 Palestinians have been stranded for months.
“We are in an exceptional situation as we are in the midst of a major security operation to secure Baghdad. Everyone is subjected to any interrogation from the security directorates," said a police officer on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to disclose security information.
In one incident in Baghdad's central district of al-Batawyen, interior ministry forces broke doors and windows of a building that is rented by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to house Palestinian refugees and arrested 17 men.
The second incident took place in al-Amin district in the eastern side of the capital. According to UNHCR, 13 Palestinian men were apprehended by men wearing Iraqi security uniforms.
"There was sniper fire against a government building from the rooftop of the al-Batawyen house in which they [the Palestinians] were staying. But police later released them when they found them innocent," the police officer said. "And the second incident was just to check their legal documents."
UNHCR said on Wednesday that what happened to the men during their abduction was unclear. The agency said the men and their families were clearly traumatised by the ordeal and afraid to provide any details.
The refugee agency said that the abduction caused great panic among the Palestinians, with some saying that they feared attacks by militias. Others said they wanted to leave as well but could not because they lacked proper documents or because they still had family members in Baghdad who cannot leave.
IRIN spoke to Khalid al-Qudsi, a 55-year-old Palestinian who lives in the west Baghdad neighbourhood of Iskan and whose relatives were among those arrested on Tuesday and who were heading to the Syrian border on Thursday. Instant death in Baghdad
"I heard from my cousin yesterday night and he was really terrified. He told me that they can't stand it any more and that they are leaving for Syria with other families. He told me that they would prefer to live under the harsh conditions at the Syrian borders than to meet instant death in Baghdad," said al-Qudsi.
"I have not heard from my daughter and her three kids who are stranded at the Syrian border. I last heard from her two months ago when she sent me a letter with a taxi driver. They were in a very bad situation and she said that one of her sons, who is seven years old, was sick,” he said.
UNHCR said that around 15,000 Palestinians live in Baghdad as refugees, but face constant threats from death squads and are unable to move freely. The refugee agency said many of those in Baghdad who have tried to leave have been turned back by militia in the city.
“Of all the groups being targeted in Iraq, the Palestinians are the most vulnerable as they literally have nowhere else to flee, and in many cases have been denied travel documents”, said Andrew Harper, the Geneva-based senior Iraq operations manager for UNHCR. “The international community must act now to help these people. A safe haven needs to be found immediately, outside Iraq.”
At the same time, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has appealed to Arab governments to take in the more than 500 Palestinians who have been stranded for months at the Iraqi-Syrian border after fleeing persecution in Baghdad.
"We appeal to their common sense and generosity to allow them in. Having pregnant women, children and newborn babies there under snow and rain is no solution," Panos Moumtzis, head of UNRWA in Syria, said.