Who Will step up to the plate?

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.

Salam–

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11 thoughts on “Who Will step up to the plate?

  1. Actually, I didn’t mention this because at the time I composed this it was not yet confirmed; I had heard from the refugees and from Al Jazeera that Syria was considering whether or not they would take the Palestinians at the border. Now the UNHCR seems to confirm this in a Reuters news story:

    http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/UNHCR/a787fd132aef9a76635406d5d3e2d3a5.htm

    Syria to admit nearly 200 Palestinians stranded on the Iraq-Jordan border
    25 Apr 2006 16:20:20 GMT
    Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

    GENEVA, Apr 25 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has welcomed an announcement by the government of Syria to admit 181 Palestinians who fled Baghdad in terror following death threats in mid-March. Since that time they have been stranded on the Iraq-Jordan border, surviving in a makeshift camp, with supplies of food, water and other relief items provided by UNHCR and non-governmental organizations.
    “We have been trying to find various solutions for these Palestinians and are now very grateful that the Syrian government is offering a solution to this group,” said Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR’s regional deputy director in Geneva.
    The group will be accepted into Syria under the auspices of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization set up to help Palestinians in the Near East. “We are in close contact with UNRWA which is responsible for Palestinians in Syria, and we are ready to offer assistance where needed.”
    There are an estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq, of whom 23,000 are registered with UNHCR in Baghdad. Palestinian refugees came to Iraq in three main waves – in 1948, in 1967 and in 1991. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, they were provided with protection and assistance and enjoyed a relatively high standard of treatment that some segments of the Iraqi population now consider unfair.
    Having faced death threats, intimidation and kidnapping in recent months, an initial group of 89 Palestinians arrived at the border on 19 March to find access into Jordan denied. The group, which was later joined by 93 more people, has camped at the Trebil border crossing ever since.
    “We are presently in touch with all concerned parties trying to support a smooth and quick transfer of the group of 181 to Syria,” said Nouicer.
    News of the announcement from Syria has led to more Palestinians fleeing Baghdad to the border in the hope that they too will be allowed entry. “But,” Nouicer added, “So far we have not been informed that additional groups of Palestinians will be accepted into the country.”
    Late on Saturday night, a bus carrying 50 Palestinians arrived at the Iraq-Jordan border. Iraqi border authorities did not initially allow them to join the group of 181 already camped there. When the weather worsened, however, the 34 women and children on the bus were allowed to temporarily shelter in the makeshift camp, while the men were moved to a site further away but still in the border area.
    “Over the past two days, our staff in Jordan and Iraq have made every effort to allow the new arrivals to officially join the other group, but have been unsuccessful so far,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told journalists at a regular briefing in Geneva. “We have been told by border officials that they had not received any official information regarding the admission of additional people into Syria.
    “The situation inside the Trebil border camp is getting more and more difficult,” Spindler continued. “Over the weekend, strong winds and dust storms blew away several tents and temporary infrastructure, such as latrines, and caused heavy damage to the camp.”
    Spindler added that UNHCR was continuing to work with the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Iraqi authorities to improve the security situation and enhance the protection of the Palestinians in the capital.

  2. ok
    well now I think we should beg to clear the snactions against syria

    It seems they are good people arent they??

    salam

  3. I wouldn’t say that Syria is a ‘good country’, whatever that means. but this does show that when worst comes to worst, the Syrian government are at least sometimes willing to step up to the plate; this is certainly to its credit.

  4. Well, it IS a one party state; you don’t win with over 97% approval (as President al-Asad did in 2000) without a certain lack of electoral honesty.

  5. LOL its for sure not about democracy, take Egypt for example Mubarak won the election with about 90 percent,and they are not considere bad people or let me say the USA agree on the regiem.

    the issue here is about the loyality to USA and their west Allies, and of course the agreement on the support and protection of Israel from terrorist as they call them.

    Hamas won a crystal clear demcratic election in palestine, but does this make hamas good people in the eyes of the USA and their allies??

    SO, USA:Go and invade every country which say NO to you and to israel, make chaos, kill innocent people, and yeah steal their oil!

    Salam

  6. You can be elected without being good; look at Bush, he seems to have been elected fairly. But if you fake an election, you probably aren’t very trustworthy; I don’t like General Musharraf or the Saud monarchs, either.

  7. Marcy, Are you saying there are no rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel? Too bad you don’t go where the rockets are landing and talk to those people.

  8. Shia militant groups in Iraq are indeed killing Palestinians. Every day. If you don’t believe me, travel there yourself or ask the Palestinian refugees who left Iraq because each of these families have people who have been killed by these militant groups. Read a little history and learn about why Shia people in Iraq might be blaming Palestinians there for Saddam Hussein’s policies towards Palestinians before you jump to conclusions.

    I’ve never said that no rockets are being fired from Ghaza; but I have said that unlike the unrelenting bombardment of Israeli shelling in Ghaza, these rockets have not elicited any casualties.

    Salam–

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