According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), thirty-four thousand Palestinians lived in Iraq before the American invasion in 2003. Many have since faced harassment, threats of deportation, abuse by the media, arbitrary detention, torture and murder. Palestinian neighborhoods such as al-Hurriyya and al-Baladiyyat in Baghdad have been bombarded and attacked ever since the occupation. Many Palestinians in Iraq were either killed, imprisoned, or have been forced to leave. Many were expelled from their homes and initially took shelter in tents in Haifa stadium in Baghdad. According to the UNHCR, about 21,000 have left the country since 2003, and only 13,000 remain.
A number of Palestinians who were forced to leave are now stranded in refugee camps:
Al-Waleed Refugee Camp:
This camp is located on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria at the al-Waleed border crossing in a remote area not far from al-Tanaf camp (see below). The International Committee of the Red Cross and UNHCR have provided relief items such as blankets, stoves, plastic sheets, tents and food. Local area organizations have taken care of the camp residents as well.
Al-Waleed was formally recognized as a camp in December, 2006. The camp had over 1500 residents who fled ongoing threats and attacks in Baghdad.
Recently, The US government approved 1350 of the camp residents for resettlement in the US. This major rescue operation began in September 2009. As of December 2, 2009, 45 families have arrived and been relocated in various cities in the US including in California, Texas, Idaho, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Virginia and Florida. Many others are expected over the next few weeks and months.
Refugee agencies contracted by the US government have been providing some essential services to those arriving.
Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition has been supplementing the support received by the families from the refugee agencies to the exent that monetary, wish list or computer donations from our community and supporters have allowed. These supplements have included help with the payment of utility bills, household needs not necessarily covered by food stamp programs, providing donated or purchased computers for easier and less expensive communication via the internet with relatives etc. Local communities and organizations have also helped families relocated to their areas monetarily and with furniture, clothes and other donations as well as medical, dental, educational and other services.
Al-Tanaf Refugee Camp:
Al-Tanaf camp is located in no-man’s land between Iraq and Syria. There are more than 800 Palestinians stranded in this camp many since May 2006. More recently, the camp’s population rose because Syrian authorities took to the camp Palestinians who had entered Syria from Iraq some with forged documents.
Al-Tanaf camp is about 260 kilometers away from the nearest populated area. About 10% of the refugees living in this camp are in need of medical treatments and aid which are not currently available.
The camp residents have so far been taken care of by local area organizations with some support from the United Nations.
For exclusive photos from Al-Tanaf Refugee camp go to this page.
Al-Hol Refugee Camp:
Al-Hol refugee camp is located in the Hasaka desert region of Syria. This camp was originally set up by UNHCR in 1991 to host Iraqi refugees fleeing Iraq after the suppression of the uprisings in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Currently, more than 300 Palestinians are stranded in Al-Hol.
Eighteen of nineteen refugees who initially fled Baghdad in October 2005 are today still in Al Hol camp. One elderly woman returned to her family in Iraq. The remaining Palestinians moved to the camp largely in May 2006.
Al-Ruweished Refugee Camp:
Al-Ruweished was located on the Jordanian side about 70 kilometres from the border with Iraq. It was set up in 2003 and housed Somalis and Iranian Kurds as well as Palestinians and Iraqis fleeing violence in Iraq. With the exception of the Palestinians, nearly all the refugees who passed through this camp were relatively quickly resettled in third countries, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States. In contrast, most of the 148 Palestinians had been stranded in al-Ruweished for more than four years, and, only in early 2007 were they moved to Brazil after having been granted asylum by that country. Canada granted asylum to 54 Palestinians from this camp one year earlier. Two families were moved to the US. One was re-located to Southern California and another to Virginia. Al-Ruweished camp is currently empty and closed.
*This Factsheet was prepared by Al-Awda’s Refugee Support Committee.