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Cablegate: 2,200 Refugees Languish On Iraqi-Jordanian Border

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 AMMAN 004001

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/NGA AND PRM, PLEASE PASS TO USAID/OFDA FOR DART
CAIRO FOR REFCOORD
CPA BAGHDAD FOR WYLLIE AND LAPENN

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PREL KPAL IZ JO
SUBJECT: 2,200 REFUGEES LANGUISH ON IRAQI-JORDANIAN BORDER

REF: AMMAN 2427

(U) Sensitive but unclassified; please handle accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary and Comment: On June 24, Amman-based
regional refcoord and PRM DART-Iraq team members visited
UNHCR refugee camps on the Jordanian-Iraqi border and in
Ruweished, Jordan. Combined population for the two camps
remains near 2,200: 1,200 Iranian Kurds from Al Tash
refugee camp and other undocumented nationals in no-man's
land (NML) between the Iraqi and Jordanian border posts, as
well as 899 Palestinians and 163 Somalis and Sudanese in
UNHCR's refugee camp at Ruweished. The Somalis and
Sudanese, previously held in the Jordan Red Crescent's TCN
transit camp, were moved to the UNHCR camp on June 23 as
part of the GOJ's decision to close the TCN transit camp.
The NML population has begun to decrease, with 44 Iranian
Kurds having left for northern Iraq and another 75
considering a move in the near future. The MEK population
in NML has dwindled from its original 96 members to just
five. Although concerned by the poor living and security
conditions in NML, both the GOJ and UNHCR have indicated
they are willing to support the NML camp until a solution
can be found for the Iranian Kurds from Al Tash refugee
camp. End summary and comment.

----------------------------------
NML Population: Al Tash Kurds ...
----------------------------------

2. (U) UNHCR reports that the refugee population in no-
man's land (NML) between the Iraqi and Jordanian border
posts of Trebil and Karameh has remained stable at roughly
1,200 since mid-May. 1,100 of the refugees are Iranian
Kurds from UNHCR's Al Tash refugee camp near Ramadi, Iraq.
The Al Tash Kurds began arriving at the border on April 14,
citing a lack of UNHCR services, general insecurity and fear
of political reprisals from neighboring Arab tribes as their
reasons for fleeing Al Tash refugee camp (ref). The Kurds
have held daily protests since mid-May, demanding entry to
Jordan and resettlement in third countries - but attracting
no notice from the hundreds of journalists that pass through
the Jordanian-Iraqi border en route to Baghdad.

3. (U) Since May 29, when the GOJ told the Kurds they would
not be allowed to enter Jordan, more than 40 Iranian Kurds
have left NML for the northern Iraqi village of Kallar, just
outside Suleimaniyah, where some of the Kurds have
relatives. Another 75 are considering leaving NML for
Kallar but are unwilling to do so without guarantees from
UNHCR and the coalition forces regarding safety, security,
humanitarian assistance and resettlement possibilities in a
third country - possibly the United States. The 75 Kurds
told UNHCR they could convince another 600 to leave NML for
northern Iraq if UNHCR could provide written guarantees for
resettlement. The Kurds told PRM officers that they view a
move to northern Iraq as temporary, a transit point as they
seek asylum in a third country. The NML Kurds also reported
"several hundred" Kurds have left Al Tash refugee camp for
Kallar, wooed by promises made by visiting PUK officials
that they would have a better life in northern Iraq.
UNHCR/Iraq has been unable to confirm how many Kurds have
left Al Tash camp for northern Iraq. UNHCR/Iraq also has
advised UNHCR/Jordan that it would be unable to support an
assisted movement of NML Kurds to northern Iraq before
November, as it has neither sufficient staff nor services in
place to accommodate a new refugee population. Frustrated
by UNHCR's slow response, some of the 75 Kurds are
considering moving to Kallar without UNHCR assistance.

4. (U) The core group of 1,000 Iranian Kurds in NML refuses
to return to Iraq, claiming it is a "jail" in which they
suffered for 23 years, restricted to Al Anbar governorate
and deprived of social and economic opportunities. The
Kurds told PRM officers that they doubt that the change in
Iraq's leadership will bring changes in their situation,
claiming they suffer from poor UNHCR management as well as
discrimination from local Arab tribes. (Some of the Kurds
claim, for example, that their applications for resettlement
or voluntary repatriation to Iran languished for three or
four years without a response from UNHCR.) Some of the
Kurds also claim they cannot return to their native Iran, as
they are political opponents of the clerical regime and
would face certain death or imprisonment if they returned
home. (Several hundred Iranian Kurds from Al Tash camp had
in fact been rejected for voluntary repatriation by the
Iranian government.) The Al Tash Kurds in NML therefore see
resettlement in a third country as their only option.
Although the GOJ has indicated it would be willing to allow
the Kurds to transit Jordan if they had onward documentation
and tickets for resettlement in a third country, UNHCR
(correctly, in our opinion) refuses to conduct resettlement
screening from NML, fearing it would create a pull factor
for disgruntled refugees and Iraqi nationals from throughout
Iraq.

-------------------------------------------
... and a Hodgepodge of Undocumented Others
-------------------------------------------

5. (U) NML also is home to another 100 or so people with
document problems, a hodgepodge of nationalities and
political problems. The original group of NML residents -
96 Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) members -- has dwindled to just
five, three of whom have onward travel documentation for the
UK and are waiting to sort out the details. Six self-
described Iranian Persians (former POWs and Iranian
oppositionists) also fled Al Tash refugee camp and are
seeking resettlement in a third country. Two undocumented
Jordanian Palestinians, who seem to have fled Jordan after
Black September, also remain at the border hoping for
resettlement. A group of 41 undocumented Palestinians who
arrived after the GOJ reverted to pre-war border practices
for Palestinians on May 22 (see para 7 for details) also
remains in NML, hoping to enter - and presumably resettle in
- Jordan. As with the Iranian Kurds, UNHCR has told this
group it cannot be processed for a durable solution -
including resettlement in a third country - as long as it
remains in NML. Like the Kurds, this group refuses to
return to Iraq.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
Palestinians and TCNs in UNHCR's Ruweished Refugee Camp
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (U) UNHCR's refugee camp at Ruweished, Jordan is now
home to 899 Palestinians from Baghdad and 163 Somalis and
Sudanese, moved from the Jordan Red Crescent's TCN transit
camp on June 23 after the GOJ decided to close the camp.
This group of Somalis and Sudanese are long-term residents
of Iraq who refuse to return to their country of origin but
also are unwilling to return to Iraq. UNHCR has interviewed
this group and found that only four qualify for UNHCR
refugee status.

7. (SBU) The GOJ agreed to admit the Palestinians to the
UNHCR refugee camp on April 21, seemingly in the hopes that
its gesture would encourage UNHCR to move the Al Tash Kurds
to a new refugee camp just inside the Iraqi border. Once
the GOJ opened the border to Palestinians, a small but
steady steam began, resulting in more than 1,100
Palestinians in the UNHCR refugee camp by mid-May. On May
22, the GOJ reverted to its pre-war immigration policy for
Palestinians, allowing only those with proper documentation
and prior permission from the General Intelligence
Directorate to enter Jordan. (This policy remained in place
for all other Jordanian borders - including the Allenby
bridge - throughout the war.) This decision, coupled with
terrible sandstorms in late May, has led to a gradual exodus
from the camp. As conditions worsen in the camp over the
summer, UNHCR expects that still more Palestinians will give
up and return to Baghdad.

8. (SBU) Nearly one-third of the Palestinians in the
Ruweished refugee camp are "mixed marriages," Palestinian-
Jordanian women (carrying Jordanian passports) married to
Palestinian-Iraqi men (with either Iraqi or no
documentation). UNHCR believes that the GOJ will eventually
allow this group - roughly 300 individuals - to enter
Jordan. According to the camp committee, the remainder of
the group seeks resettlement in a third country, preferably
in northern Europe where some of the Palestinians have
relatives. The Palestinians represent a mix of 1948
refugees (all of whom were originally from Haifa, and fled
Palestine with the retreating Iraqi army), 1967 refugees and
other Palestinians who were thrown out of the Gulf in the
aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. (Although the camp
committee members did not mention this to PRM officers, the
Palestinian community in Iraq also includes various
rejectionist factions.)

9. (U) The Palestinians told PRM officers that Iraq is
"finished" for them. As a minority within Iraq's Sunni
minority, they fear they will be the first to suffer
political reprisals from the Shi'a majority. The
Palestinians also said Iraqis view the Palestinians as, at
best, having been a privileged group under Saddam's regime
and, at worst, supporters of the Saddam regime. This is the
reason, they said, that Palestinians have been kicked out of
their homes in Baghdad. (NOTE: Other Palestinians have
reported that economics, rather than politics, led to a rise
in their bargain-basement rents, previously enforced by
Saddam's regime.)

9. (SBU) The Palestinians also rejected a theoretical
return to an independent state of Palestine, emphatically
telling PRM officers that they are from Haifa, inside Green-
Line Israel and would not be welcome there. A return to the
West Bank or Gaza, they said, would not be a return to their
country of origin. Moreover, the GOJ's reluctance to accept
more Palestinian refugees rules out local integration as an
option. For these Palestinians, resettlement is perceived
as their only option. (NOTE: Palestinian refugees outside
UNRWA's areas of operations - e.g., Iraq - fall under
UNHCR's mandate and therefore could be considered for
resettlement as a durable solution. However, the fact that
these Palestinian refugees are now under UNHCR protection in
an area of UNRWA operation - Jordan - poses difficult legal
questions for the two agencies. Moreover, as UNHCR Jordan
Representative Sten Bronee noted to PRM officers, UNHCR's
predominantly Arab-origin expatriate staff in the Middle
East express great resistance to the idea of resettling any
Palestinian refugees, due to the implications of such
resettlement for the larger Palestinian refugee question.)

-------------------------------
Camp Management and Cost Issues
-------------------------------

10. (U) UNHCR and its implementing partners - the Hashemite
Charitable Organization, CARE, OXFAM and Japan Platform -
continue to provide services in the Ruweished and NML camps.
MSF, which had been providing additional medical assistance
and some psycho-social counseling, ended its program on June
30. WFP is ending its food assistance on June 30, citing
its usual policy of providing assistance only to refugee
populations of more than 5,000 people. ICRC and UNHCR will
continue to provide food assistance. Medical and dental
care is emerging as a key issue for the NML camp, as UNHCR
is required to obtain special GOJ authorization to bring NML
residents into Jordan for specialized treatments. (The
nearest hospital is in Ruweished, Jordan - 75 km from the
NML camp.) Several NML refugees complained to PRM officers
that they had not received adequate medical treatment due to
the difficulties in traveling outside NML. Refugee morale
seems to have improved in recent weeks, due largely to the
efforts of a UNHCR community services officer, seconded by
Save the Children.

11. (U) UNHCR and IOM currently are in negotiations over how
to handle the costs of caring for the 163 TCNs moved to the
UNHCR refugee camp on June 23. UNHCR has recognized only
four of these TCNs as refugees but has agreed to provide
basic services on humanitarian grounds. Water is likely to
emerge as a key cost-sharing issue for UNHCR and IOM. After
three months of supplying water for the then-three refugee
camps from the municipality of Ruweished, the GOJ has
determined that it no longer can do so. The GOJ turned on
the partially USAID-funded reverse osmosis (RO) water
treatment unit on June 23, enabling UNHCR to supply water
for the two camps from the GOJ-dug well near the Ruweished
refugee camp. UNCHR officials note that the GOJ turned on
the RO unit just a few days after the USAID-financed
maintenance contract expired on June 11. UNHCR is now in
negotiations with the GOJ over the cost of maintaining this
unit. UNHCR estimates that it will require USD 2 million to
run the two camps for another six months.

-------
Comment
-------

12. (SBU) The GOJ's initial decision not to admit the
Iranian Kurds to Jordan has remained firm and we anticipate
that it will not change. Although UNHCR initially
considered creating a new camp for the Kurds just inside the
Iraqi border, it has now ruled out the possibility, arguing
that a new camp would create a pull factor for disgruntled
nationals and refugees from throughout Iraq and create false
expectations for resettlement in a third country. UNHCR
also believes a new cross-border camp would allow the GOJ to
formally close the door to asylum seekers. We agree with
UNHCR's assessment. Both the GOJ and UNHCR have indicated
they are willing to support the NML camp until a solution
can be found for the Iranian Kurds from Al Tash refugee
camp. In the meantime, we are working with UNHCR to
identify solutions, including a return to Iraq and possibly
resettlement for some Iranian Kurds in the United States.

13. (SBU) The Palestinians' situation is both more
complicated and potentially more manageable. The division
of responsibility between UNHCR and UNRWA is a legal and
political morass, from which a durable solution for this
group of Palestinians is unlikely to emerge. Yet given the
Palestinians' strong ties to Jordan, UNHCR believes (and we
agree) that the GOJ eventually will admit some - if not all
- of the Palestinians to Jordan. However, it is unlikely
that the GOJ will take any action regarding the Palestinians
until the situation at NML has been resolved.

14. (U) CPA Baghdad minimize considered.
GNEHM

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