GENEVA, June 1 (UNHCR) – A fresh spate of killings and kidnappings in Baghdad and a renewed death threat have led to mounting anger, panic and fear among the Palestinian refugee community in Iraq. Hundreds have fled to border areas.
Unknown assailants have killed at least six Palestinians in the Iraqi capital in the last two weeks, according to reports received by UNHCR staff there. Last Sunday, around 20 armed assailants entered a house in Baghdad and took a Palestinian man into the garden before shooting him dead in front of his family.
In an earlier case, another Palestinian man was found dead shortly after being abducted on May 15 and a subsequent statement warned Palestinians to leave Iraq within 10 days or "face the same fate as the criminals in other areas."
"You have been warned," said the unsigned message, which was seen by UNHCR staff. "You will be judged fiercely."
The latest murders and kidnappings have stoked mounting fear, panic and anger among the Palestinians, according to Palestinian diplomats who have visited members of the community. Since February, killings, intimidation and kidnapping of Palestinians in Baghdad have been rife.
The situation eased slightly in late April, when Iraqi Shia religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a decree forbidding attacks on Palestinians and police stepped up patrols in areas largely populated by the Palestinians.
But this seems to have been only a temporary lull. Hundreds of Palestinians have fled the capital in recent weeks and made their way to the Iraq-Syria border in the hope of seeking sanctuary across the border. In early May, Syria allowed 287 Palestinians to enter the country after they had been refused entry to Jordan.
The UNHCR has been trying to negotiate entry for other scared Palestinians, but the Syrian government has told UNHCR staff no newcomers will be accepted.
A total of 212 Palestinians, including children and pregnant women, have fled Baghdad since May 10 and are stranded at the Syria-Iraq border. The UN refugee agency and the Syrian Red Crescent are providing food, basic items and medical care to the group, who are refusing to return to Baghdad.
Meanwhile, UNHCR has also received reports that members of the Palestinian community in Iraq have been unable to renew their residency permits since 28 March this year. This has had serious consequences for their freedom of movement and security.
Iraq is home to more than 24,000 registered Palestinians. Some fled to Iraq from their homes in the newly created Israel in 1948 and others were born in the country. Some Palestinians received preferential treatment under the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and supported his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But they have become targets since Saddam's overthrow in 2003.