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Iraq: UN concerned for Palestinians, death threats

Amid reports of death threats, UN voices concern for Palestinians in Iraq

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced increasing concern over the situation of tens of thousands of Palestinians in Baghdad amid reports that more than 100 families had received written death threats and that many are in a state of shock and panic.

“This panic may spread and lead to more Palestinians fleeing Baghdad,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva of the refugees, who have faced harassment for their perceived support of the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.

“They are feeling increasingly trapped, and for security reasons many have stopped going to work and have taken their children out of school. While Iraqis are also affected by the general insecurity in Iraq, Palestinians feel especially vulnerable and targetted as they were perceived to have been treated favourably by the previous regime,” she added.

On Tuesday, UNHCR expressed concern for the well-being of a group of 88 Palestinians who had got stuck in No Man's Land at the Iraqi-Jordanian border after leaving Baghdad because of the insecurity.

“They said the killings, disappearances, and hostage-taking affecting their families, neighbours and friends had become intolerable,” Ms. Pagonis said.

The group was relocated back inside the Iraqi border at Trebil by the Iraqi authorities, but it is unclear if they will be able to stay there. “The group is adamant they do not want to return to any part of Iraq,” she added.

UNHCR is trying to ensure the basic needs of the group such as food and water are met but they are now in an area which makes the agency’s access and intervention extremely difficult.

“Late last night our team on the Jordanian side managed to deliver food supplies for 5-7 days plus mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, stoves, jerry cans, lanterns,” Ms. Pagonis said.

There are an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq of whom 23,000 have been registered by UNHCR in Baghdad. They came to Iraq in three main waves - in 1948 on the creation of Israel, in 1967 after the six-day war and in 1991 after the Gulf War.

They were provided with protection and assistance by Saddam Hussein and enjoyed a relatively high standard of treatment that some segments of Iraqi society considered unfair. As a result, the Palestinians have in the past few years faced evictions, threats and harassment.

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