Yesterday, I visited two new refugee camps. One is just inside the Jordanian border called Al Ruweished. It houses approximately 700 Iranian Kurdish refugees and 110 Palestinian refugees who fled 3 years ago because of the war in Iraq. The people in this camp are imprisoned. They are not allowed to leave. They walk around the perimeter, and some of the kids were given bicycles they can ride around the camp, but it feels like a prison yard. Not one person has national identity papers for any country. When someone has to go to the hospital for anything from a burn injury (there have been many of these) to a heart attack, it can take days or weeks to get an ambulance. For instance when one woman went to the Jordanian government hospital in the town of Al Ruwweished because of a stroke, she was chained to the bed and two guards were placed outside her room at all times. They are treated like criminals. They have been here for 3 years and no country seems willing to accept these families into their country.
The other camp is in what is known as No Man’s Land in between the Iraqi and Jordanian border (see picture above). This camp has been in existence for 1 year and 3 months and 220 people live there, 60% of whom are children. This camp is composed entirely of Iranian Kurds. This camp, although it’s been in existence much less time than the other one, seems a bit more organized. They can’t go back to Iraq and they Jordan won’t let them in. They are also imprisoned in this stateless place and they also have no national identity papers. This space is controlled by U.S. forces and I was only allowed to visit for one hour because, according to the troops stationed there, sometimes Iraqi insurgents sometimes shoot at journalists and internationals who enter the camps. The soldiers had to secure the camp in order for us to enter, thus making it rather conspicuous that something was going on inside.
Outside this camp, just beyond the Iraqi border, on the other side of the wall, live a group of Palestinians who are trying to flee Iraq after they received death threats from Shi’a militant groups in Baghdad. The Iraqis won’t open the border to allow the Palestinians inside to at least live a little more safely. Both camps lack enough food and water. But, of course, most of all they want to get out of the camps.
The people in the No Man’s Land Camp have written a statement about their situation and I have typed it below verbatim. Please alert people to their concerns if you know anyone who might help them or the people in Al Ruweished Camp.
“To Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch organizations and all the mass media and human rights organizations:
It is a year and three month[s] that we have left Iraq to save our lives and to reach to a human’s life and to conclude to more than a quarter of a century of having no legal rights and identity. We came to the border of Jordan and Iraq until we will be able to reach our human and refugee rights that we were deprived from for more than a quarter of a century living in prison of Altash [refugee] Camp in Iraq.
But, unfortunately not only the Jordanian government and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) didn’t receive us, even the Jordanian government didn’t let us enter the previous Al Karama Camp on the border of Iraq and Jordan, resorting to the force and even broke the hand and head of two of the refugees and even beating the pregnant women, in case that the Jordanian government has accepted the international agreements of defendant from humans and especially refugee rights. And they don’t even let the philanthropic organizations visit our camp. We have been forced to stay in the border of Iraq without enjoyment of any possibilities that a human needs to live. After five months, according to demands of the UN from Iraq and Jordan, the Ministry of Human Rights in Iraq brought 31 tents for us on May 1, 2006 until now we are in No Man’s Land. During these months only twice has the UNHCR in Jordan brought food and water for two weeks for us. We get food and water and everything by begging from the truck drivers. All the idiomatically defender of humans and refugee rights organizations have closed their eyes in front of us, and the silence of these organizations has persuaded us to call ourselves the Orphans of International Community Camp for the Iranian Kurdish Refugees in No Man’s Land.
We had not come to the border of Iraq and Jordan by our desire. Iraq is not secure for the political refugees and all the parties that are in power in this country have a close relationship with the Islamic Republic regime in Iran and this country doesn’t give any political rights to political refugees. During about three decades of living in Iraq, the terrorists of the Islamic regime in Iran had killed tens from us in the north of Iraq and in Altash Camp in Ramadi City. The UNHCR solution for us is returning to the north of Iraq after 27 years living in this country and in case that about 66 one from these refugees had come from Arbil and Sulaymaneya cities in north of Iraq from the fear of catching in net by the terrorists of the Islamic regime in Iran.
Iraq is not our home country and we don’t return to this country after about three decades of living like a prisoner, and even this country does not agree that the Iraqi refugees return to this country. Now the UNHCR demands from us to return to this country. On the contrary of our UNHCR politics in front of us:
1. Our problem is not the problem of starvation and the security is not everything for us.
2. The UNHCR doesn’t accept our camp as an official camp and says that we had taken our tents from a local organization in case that it is more than a quarter of a century that we are refugees and it is more than a decade that we have the UNHCR file number and we had been accepted as refugees by this organization. What’s the responsibility of the UNHCR and the ICRC and UNICEF and other organizations in front of 192 humans between the borders of two countries deprived of even food and water and shelter?
3. According to the speeches of the UNHCR authorities in Jordan returning back to Alkawa Camp in ABIL is the only solution because there is water and electricity and jobs for the refugees in the camp, who built houses and what the UNHCR gave to us during about three decades living in Altash Camp in Iraq.
4. The UNHCR says that the place we are living in it, namely No Man’s Land, is not secure, if the UNHCR is an organization for helping refugees why doesn’t it find a radical solution for our problem after about three decades of living in Iraq?
5. The UNHCR says: the Jordanian government will close the Al Ruweished Camp in September 2006 and there will not be any other chance for us to go inside this country. The UNHCR is responsible in front of the refugees everywhere, even in No Man’s Land, like the other refugees in the previous Al Karma Camp on the border of Iraq and Jordan.
6. A third country is not the only solution for us even if the Islamic regime in Iran gave us our national and cultural and political rights and let our political parties go inside Iran, we will return to our home country.
7. The ICRC had visited us four times but unfortunately they had not done anything to protect us, in case that first we had fled from Iraq for the sake of our security and war in this country and second it is a year and three months that we are on the border of Iraq and Jordan deprived of everything even water and food and other possibilities that humans need and even the UNHCR says the place that we are in is not secure.
8. What are the responsibilities of UNICEF in front of 85 children under the age of 18 in the camp and especially pregnant women?
9. In Kurdistan of Iraq we were accounted as a second class citizens and we did not have any rights of participating in society. We should have the Iraqi identification and even according to the speeches of UNHCR those refugees that are in Kurdistan of Iraq will lose their refugee identity.
The life is not only drinking and eating.
The life without freedom is a gradual death and living on this border is not easy.
But we have suffered for several years and if we die here it is better than to live like this gradual death.
We have been born free and we want to live with freedom.
We demand from you to force the Jordanian government and the UNHCR to put respect for our humans and refugee rights and to conclude their political silence in front of us and to find a radical solution to our problem after about three decades of living in Iraq and just a year and three months living on the border of Iraq and Jordan.
With best regards,
The Committee of the Iranian Kurdish Refugees between the border of Jordan and Iraq in No Man’s Land Camp