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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
23 May 2006
Palestinians on Syria-Iraq border
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis –
to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing,
on 23 May 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
A group of 186 Palestinians, including four pregnant women and 29 children, have been stranded for about a fortnight in no-man's-land at the Tanf border checkpoint on the Iraq-Syria border. The Palestinians fled Baghdad for the border following a decision by the government of Syria earlier this month to accept a first group of 287 Palestinians. Most of the earlier group had been stranded for two months at the Iraq-Jordan border before being given entry by Syria. The current group of 186 Palestinians has so far been denied entry into Syria, despite UNHCR's efforts. Additional Palestinians are reportedly still on the Iraqi side of the border also hoping for entry into Syria.
Most of the refugees say they were threatened in Iraq and some said they had been arrested because they lacked valid Iraqi residence permits. Others cited serious harassment as the reason for their departure.
We are continuing our demarches with the Syrian government to allow the Palestinians entry into Syria, but have so far been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, we have provided all Palestinians in no-man's land with aid items as well as food, water and milk for the children. More than 60 tents and several mobile toilets have been put up. We were allowed several days ago, to accompany one of the women about to give birth into Syria so she could deliver her baby in Damascus. At the border, the Syrian Red Crescent is providing medical help.
The 287 Palestinians who were transported to the UNHCR-run El Hol refugee camp earlier this month are doing well and have been assisted by UNHCR Syria. We have re-opened a day-care center for small children and employed a doctor to provide medical care. In the coming weeks, the responsibility for this group of Palestinians will be transferred to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It is hoped the people will eventually be allowed to leave the camp and live in Syrian towns and cities.
The security situation in Baghdad seems to have improved a bit in recent weeks. But people are still leaving as the general violence in Iraq continues. We have an ongoing dialogue with the Iraqi authorities on improving the life of the refugees inside Iraq, but issues pertaining to residence permits and registration of foreigners – in this case the Palestinians – still need to be resolved. UNHCR estimates some 24,000 Palestinians are still living in the capital.