Tuesday, October 02, 2007
PALESTINIANS CAN'T CATCH A BREAK
Once again Palestinians are paying the price for a hell they did not create. This times it's Iraq.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Palestinian refugees residing in Iraq like this little girl, pictured after fleeing to Jordan, have experienced increasing hostility and harassment.
In 1948, when the state of Israel was established, more than 5,000 Palestinians fled to Iraq. They came mostly from the cities of Haifa and Jaffa. This group now numbers 35,000 and they were officially registered as refugees by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. The other 80,000 to 90,000 Palestinians living in Iraq came via Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt; they are registered as refugees in those countries.
According to the AFSC Palestinian refugees have generally had good relations with the Iraqi people and government. They were given the same rights as Iraqi citizens, with one exception: they could not own land or cars. To partially relieve this restriction, the Hussein regime provided either government-owned housing, or fixed, subsidized rent in privately owned houses and apartments.
That all changed with the US invasion.
Thousands of Palestinian families in Baghdad have been expelled or threatened with expulsion. Landlords, who no longer receive subsidies from the government for renting to Palestinians, are forcing them out of their homes.
New refugee camps were established. The conditions in them are, of course, atrocious.
As Iraq plunged into chaos over the years, and the sectarian strife between Shi'ites and Sunni intensified, Palestinians have become more vulnerable.
They do not have an armed group or militia to protect them, as do Iraqi Shi'ite and Sunni communities, and some Shi'ite religious groups have tried to link them to insurgents fighting Iraqi troops and US forces.
According to the records of Labour and Social Affairs Ministry, there are more than 30,000 Palestinians in Iraq, including Palestinians who fled Kuwait after the Iraqi occupation in 1990. However, According to the UNHCR, nearly 20,000 Palestinians have left the country since 2003 and about 19,000 remain.
Some Palestinian citizens who spoke to Gulf News said that the government of Al Maliki, especially the Interior Ministry affiliated to the ruling Shiite coalition, is very hostile to Palestinians.
Osama, a Palestinian citizen, said to Gulf News: "The Shiite forces are still treating us ruthlessly because they believe that Saddam Hussain oppressed them using the Palestinian cause and it is the time to take revenge".
The Palestinian ambassador in Baghdad says that Palestinians living in Iraq are living a life of misery, unemployed and are subjected to abduction and assassination.
What else in new?
The following comes by the way of Electronic Iraq.
Palestinian refugees in Iraq caught in the crossfire
Report, Amnesty International, Oct 1, 2007
Palestinian refugees living in Iraq are the hidden victims of the Iraq conflict -- suffering threats, torture, killings and appalling living conditions in refugee camps such al-Waleed near the Syrian border, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
The report Iraq: human rights abuses against Palestinian refugees looks at the human rights abuses committed against Palestinians living in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 and highlights the lack of action by the Iraqi government and the Multi-National Force to protect them.
"Palestinians are currently one of the most vulnerable groups in Iraq. They are being hunted down, abducted, tortured and, in some cases, killed without any effective steps being taken to protect them," said Malcolm Smart, Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International. "They also face great obstacles in seeking refuge as the authorities in both Syria and Jordan, the main countries hosting Iraqi refugees, remain extremely reluctant to allow Palestinian refugees to enter their territory, and there is now a pressing need for other countries to resettle those most at risk."
Since 2003, scores of Palestinians have been abducted by armed groups with their bodies being found later in morgues or dumped on the streets, often mutilated or with clear marks of torture. Many others have been forced to flee their homes after receiving death threats. Some are currently in hiding in Iraq or stranded in camps near the Iraq/Syria border, living in extremely harsh conditions.
The joint Palestinian-International Middle East Media Centre put the number of Palestinians killed in Iraq since 2003 at more than 320 by the beginning of this year but this may have been a low estimate. The Representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon sent Amnesty International a list of nearly 500 names, and the attacks and killings are continuing.
Palestinians are being targeted as a minority group by armed militia groups because they are perceived by some Iraqis to have received preferential treatment under the government of Saddam Hussain. As non-Iraqis who are mainly Sunni Arabs, they have also been suspected of supporting or sympathizing with Sunni Iraqis involved in the insurgency against the predominantly Shi'a government and the Multi-National Force.
On 13 August 2007, Mostafa Ahmad, a 27-year-old taxi driver, was waiting at a petrol station near al-Baladiyat when he was attacked and abducted by armed men believed to belong to the Mahdi Army, a militia-type force loyal to Shi'a religious leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Two days later, the abductors used his mobile phone to call his family and told them that they could collect his body from the morgue. A relative who saw the body told Amnesty International that Mostafa Ahmad had drill holes in his corpse and his teeth appeared to have been ripped out with pliers. He had also been shot six times in the head and upper body. No investigation into his abduction and murder is known to have been initiated.
"The Iraqi government, the Multi-National Force must do all they can to afford effective protection to those at risk in Iraq, including the increasingly beleaguered Palestinian refugee community, and other governments should expand and expedite their refugee resettlement programs in order to assist this especially vulnerable community," said Malcolm Smart.
The organization also called on the Syrian and Jordanian governments to allow Palestinian refugees to enter their territory and to the international community at large to assist with the resettlement of Palestinians in line with their international obligations.
Read the full report here.