Yesterday I returned to the refugee camps near the Iraqi border, Al Ruweished and Al Karama in No Man’s Land. The 4 hour drive each way through increasingly vast uninhabited areas with large, black volcanic rocks gives one a lot of time to reflect on how isolated the people in these camps are from the rest of Jordan, and indeed from the rest of the world. I had received calls the night before from some men in No Man’s Land that there was an intense sand and wind storm (in the desert these almost look like mini twisters) that tore down 8 tents in their refugee camp. Those families were forced to sleep outside in the midst of this storm. The photo here shows one of the tents as damaged by the storm.
While I met with refugees in both camps again I also had an opportunity to meet with people from Human Rights Watch, who accompanied us on this trip, and also the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), which runs the Al Ruweished camp. Hearing their side of the story helped me put the pieces together much better in terms of the situation. UNHCR seems to be akin to a social worker in the U.S. trying to place a foster child. They have their case load, which they submit to other countries for third country resettlement, and those countries come out and interview the potential immigrants/asylum seekers and make a decision about whether or not they will take them. While for the refugees inside the camp it seems like nothing is happening, and indeed it’s not because they’re still there, it appears that UNHCR is doing their best to submit and re-submit their files. This has been most frustrating for the Palestinians in Al Ruweished who have been there for 3 years and who have seen Sudanese, Somali, Iraqi, and Iranian refugees come and go. These people have either been repatriated (something that is against the Geneva Convention the Geneva Convention and the Convention on Refugees from 1951/1967 the Convention on Refugees from 1951/1967 if this is true for Somalis and Sudanese whose home countries are not safe for them) and some have been resettled in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand. Surprise, surprise: the two countries responsible for these refugees as occupying forces in Iraq, under the Geneva Convention: the U.S. has taken zero refugees and England has taken a handful. My hope is that people will contact their senators and congress members about this issue, especially those on the Bipartisan Committee for Refugees. My main concern is for the 152 Palestinian refugees in Al Ruweished and for the 192 Iranian Kurdish refugees in No Man’s Land; it seems certain that the remaining Iranian (Persian and Kurdish) refugees in Al Ruweished will find resettlement in third countries.
I am also deeply concerned about the 150+ Palestinian refugees at the Iraqi border, on the other side of the border, where I’m not allowed to go. I saw the official Iraqi border line yesterday and actually the No Man’s Camp is physically located on Iraqi soil. Still, UNHCR Iraq has not come to help the people in this camp. They’ve been told that they can either go to a new UNHCR refugee camp in the north of Iraq or nothing. This is unacceptable according to the Geneva Convention and the Convention on Refugees. It is also unsafe, according to U.S. soldiers I spoke with yesterday. They told me that if they were in the Iranian Kurds’ shoes they would stay put too.
Yesterday afternoon was a particularly sad day in Al Ruweished camp as the relatives of two different families were murdered in Iraq. They asked me, “is there a quota for Iraqis to kill a Palestinian each day?”
The situation is grim. If you know anyone who can help: the Red Cross, government officials in the U.S., the media in the West, anyone please send them my way. I beg of you.