New transit centre in Slovakia to resettle Palestinians stuck at Iraq border

Briefing Notes, 21 July 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 21 July 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A new transit centre has been opened in Slovakia that will allow for 98 Palestinian refugees to be removed from the desert camp of al-Walid near the Iraqi-Syrian border where they have been trapped for the last six years. They will stay at the new centre for up to six months while their final resettlement to other countries is arranged.

UNHCR has made closure this year of three camps housing Palestinian refugees trying to leave Iraq a goal because of the harsh living conditions. The highest priority is closing Al Walid, a camp about 10 km inside Iraq. Several countries have responded to UNHCR's appeal to resettle these refugees but are unable to reach them for interviews because of security concerns.

At the end of May there were 1,479 refugees in Al Walid, 843 at Al Tanf in the no-man's land between Iraq and Syria near Al Walid, and 391 Palestinian refugees at Al Hol, on the Syrian side of the border further north. A further 10,000 Palestinian refugees are in Baghdad.

After continuous attacks by local Iraqis, the first of the Palestinians now in Al Walid fled Baghdad in 2003 but were not allowed to enter Syria. They stayed in the makeshift camp near the desert border under appalling conditions. A large number of countries -- including the United States, Chile and several European countries -- have resettled some refugees over the past two years and UNHCR has a target of closing the three camps by 31 December 2009.

The agreement on the humanitarian transfer of 98 Palestinian refugees from Iraq to the new transit facility in Humenne in north-eastern Slovakia was signed in the Slovak capital of Bratislava on Monday by UNHCR, the Slovak Government and the International Organisation for Migration. The 98 refugees are expected to arrive in late August and then move to final resettlement countries.

UNHCR's deputy director of the Department of International Protection, Vincent Cochetel, thanked the Slovak government for its quick response to our appeal for help in removing the Al Walid refugees from their desert location. Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak said his government was glad it had the capacity to offer a "period of safety" to these most vulnerable refugees. The representative of IOM, Argentina Szabados, said she hoped this model project would be duplicated by more EU countries.

This is the second transit facility opened to help in resettling the Palestinian refugees from Iraq. Another centre opened in Romania last year has been hosting refugees while their onward resettlement is finalized. Between the start of 2008 and the end of this May, UNHCR submitted the names of 2,902 Palestinian refugees from the three camps for resettlement; of those 603 had departed for their countries of resettlement and a further 59 were awaiting final resettlement in Romania.

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Al Tanf: Leaving No Man's Land

In February 2010, the last 60 Palestinian inhabitants of the squalid camp of Al Tanf on the Syria-Iraq border were ushered onto buses and taken to another camp in Syria.

Al Tanf camp was established in May 2006, when hundreds of Palestinians fleeing persecution in Iraq tried in vain to cross into Syria. With no country willing to accept them, they remained on a strip of desert sandwiched between a busy highway and a wall in the no-man's-land between Iraq and Syria.

Along with daily worries about their security, the residents of Al Tanf suffered from heat, dust, sandstorms, fire, flooding and even snow. The passing vehicles posed another danger. At its peak, Al Tanf hosted some 1,300 people.

UNHCR encouraged resettlement countries to open their doors to the Palestinians. Since 2008, more than 900 of them have been accepted by countries such as Belgium, Chile, Finland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The last group of Palestinians were transferred to Al Hol camp in Syria, where they face continuing restrictions and uncertainty.

Al Tanf: Leaving No Man's Land

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Palestinians Refugees in Iraq

Since the overthrow in 2003 of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, Palestinian refugees in Baghdad have increasingly become the targets of arrest, kidnapping, threats and murder, prompting thousands to flee the capital.

There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq – compared to more than double that number in 2003. They live in constant fear, many without proper documentation. For those who try to leave, the trip to Iraq's border with Syria and Jordan is increasingly dangerous. Hundreds are stuck at the Iraq-Syrian border, too scared to go back and unable to cross the frontier. Those who do manage to leave Iraq, often do so illegally.

International support is urgently needed to find a temporary humanitarian solution for the Palestinians. UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the international community and countries in the region to offer refuge to the Palestinians. The refugee agency has also approached resettlement countries, but only Canada and Syria have responded positively. Syria has since closed its borders to other desperate Palestinians.

UNHCR also advocates for better protection of the Palestinian community inside Iraq.

Palestinians Refugees in Iraq