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IRAQ: Protection of Palestinian Refugees

IRAQ: UN Refugee Agency Hails New Decree Calling For Protection Of Palestinians

New York, May 2 2006

Amid increasing attacks against Palestinian refugees living in Iraq, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today welcomed a religious decree by the war-torn country’s leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Al-Said Al-Sistani, calling for their protection.

The Fatwa comes as a reply to a letter of 19 April from the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Refugee Affairs calling on the Grand Ayatollah to help prevent further attacks on Palestinians, a UNHCR spokesperson said in Geneva, highlighting also the agency’s concerns over the past few months.

“We welcome Grand Ayatollah Al-Said Al-Sistani's issuance of a Fatwa in Iraq on Sunday (30 April) asking for the protection of Palestinian refugees in the country. The Fatwa forbids attacks on Palestinians living in Iraq and asks that they and their property be protected,” Jennifer Pagonis told reporters.

“On several occasions over the past months we have expressed our increased concern about the security situation of Palestinians in Iraq. After the Samarra bombings on 22 February, pressure had increased on the Palestinian community in eastern Baghdad,” she added, referring to the attack on the Shia shrine that led to a general upsurge in violence in Iraq.

Ms. Pagonis also highlighted that in March, close to 200 Palestinians had left the capital for the Iraq-Jordan border, saying that killings, disappearances and hostage-taking had made life intolerable in the Iraqi capital.

“The government of Syria agreed last week to accept the Palestinians stranded at the border. We are still working on the modalities with Syria, UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ) and IOM (International Organization for Migration),” she added.

There are an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq, of whom 23,000 have been registered by UNHCR in Baghdad. The Palestinian refugees came to Iraq in three main waves – in 1948, in 1967 and in 1991 – and were provided with protection and assistance by the former regime. They enjoyed a relatively high standard of treatment that some segments of the Iraqi population considered unfair. As a result, the Palestinians have in the past few years faced evictions, threats and harassment.

ENDS


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