Iraq: Whither the Palestinian Minority?

By IRIN – Baghdad

The remaining estimated 14,000 Palestinians in Iraq or holed up in camps on the Iraqi-Syrian border still face a precarious existence, despite a slowly improving security situation, say observers.

During a recent visit to Iraq in a bid to improve their plight, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the Iraqi government to issue Palestinian refugees with internationally recognised passports rather than Iraqi travel documents, a Palestinian diplomat told IRIN on 5 April.

Iraq has been issuing travel documents to Palestinians since 1948 “when they were exiled from Palestine”, said the Palestinian chargé d’affaires in Baghdad, Dalil al-Qasous.

According to al-Qasous, the options proposed were: an Iraqi passport; an Iraqi passport with a specific mark or number to indicate Palestinian origin; a Palestinian passport issued by the Palestinian Authority.

During his visit, Abbas also called for the release of 49 Palestinian refugees in Iraqi custody who had been arrested for various reasons since 2003, al-Qasous said.

“Our Iraqi brothers have promised they will mull these demands and offer all necessary help to all Palestinian refugees in Iraq,” al-Qasous said.

The Palestinians in question he said, comprised some 3,000 stranded in two makeshift camps on the Iraqi-Syrian border, and about 11,000 living in Baghdad and the provinces of Mosul and Basra.

Skeptical

News of Abbas’s efforts were welcomed by O.A., a 24-year-old Palestinian refugee in Baghdad’s eastern Baladiyat neighbourhood who preferred anonymity, but he was not optimistic of rapid improvements.

“We’ve been hearing such statements and promises since 2003 and nothing has happened. Instead, our life and situation have deteriorated.”

He said that in 2005 his father was gunned down in a Baghdad street: Hundreds of Palestinian refugees have been killed in ethnic attacks since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

O.A. was arrested in 2006 and detained for nearly a month by the Iraqi security forces on suspicion of being an insurgent.

Since that time he has been taking the precaution of not carrying on him his Iraqi-issued ID card which mentions his Palestinian origin. He also uses the Iraqi dialect to cover up his true identity and avoid harassment by security forces.

He would leave the country if he had the chance, he said. “We have no hope and no future in this country.”

Some 35,000 stateless Palestinians were living in Iraq before 2003, but many were intimidated or attacked by armed groups who accused them of loyalty to the Saddam Hussein regime. Killings, abductions and persecution have forced thousands to flee to Jordan and Syria, while others fled to makeshift refugee camps. A few have managed to get resettled abroad.

(Published in IRIN News)

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