Fire ravages border camp for Palestinian-Iraqi refugees

A raging fire swept through the Al-Tanf refugee camp on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Iraqi border on 6 October injuring 25 Palestinian-Iraqi refugees and burning down 53 tents in the isolated camp, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on 7 October.

"We are very angry and very sad. People lost their documents, passports and all their possessions. The situation is very bad," said one of the refugees from the camp who wished to remain anonymous.

According to witnesses, an unattended stove started the fire which destroyed the personal belongings, including important papers, of 11 families, and injured several of those who tried to extinguish it.

A doctor in the camp, Ahmad Hassan, told IRIN several people had suffered first degree burns, and others had severe breathing problems. Five patients were taken to the Palestinian Hospital in Damascus for treatment.

Syrian border officials supplied fire-fighting equipment to quell the blaze and helped the camp's medical team provide medical assistance to the injured.

UNHCR help

The UNHCR provided victims with new tents, blankets and kitchen supplies on the night of 7 October.

"This is the third fire these refugees have endured. It highlights the urgent need to find another solution for all the Palestinian refugees living in Al-Tanf and Al-Walid camp [a second camp on the Iraqi side of the border]," said Laurens Jolles, the UNHCR representative in Syria. "Both these camps are located in areas that are unsuitable for refugees to live in."

Al-Tanf camp is home to 310 Palestinian refugees who have fled the violence in Iraq. They have been interned in the border camp on the Syrian side since May 2006 as the Syrian authorities have refused them entry. The government says they are already hosting enough Palestinians.

Al-Walid camp on the Iraqi side of the border hosts a further 1,400 Palestinian refugees with more continuing to arrive each month. Despite the dire conditions in the camp, a solution to their plight remains beyond reach.

"We continue to explore options with the international community in the hope that the refugees can be relocated to a safe and dignified environment," said Jolles, without indicating any breakthrough was in sight.

Recently 108 Palestinian inhabitants of Ruwayshed camp on the Iraqi-Jordanian border were repatriated to Brazil.

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