More than 3,000 Palestinian refugees are currently cut off from the rest of the world in dire conditions without access to adequate humanitarian assistance.
In March 2008, Amnesty International delegates met with Palestinian refugees stranded in al-Tanf camp in no-man’s land between the borders of Iraq and Syria.
Al-Tanf camp, a narrow strip of land wedged between a concrete wall and the main transit road from Baghdad to Damascus, is dry and dusty. Temperatures soar to 50ºC in summer and plunge to below freezing in winter.
The camp accommodates hundreds of Palestinian refugees seeking to flee from Iraq, where they were formerly long term residents. Palestinians have been among those particularly targeted for sectarian killings and violence.
Overcrowded tents are the only protection from the heat, the snow and the blinding sandstorms. Danger is everywhere, especially for the children. The land is infested with scorpions and snakes.
The school tents are unprotected from the busy highway, which has already claimed the life of a boy knocked down by a truck.
According to residents who spoke to Amnesty International delegates visiting the camp in March 2008, heating and cooking systems in the tents regularly cause fires that destroy tents – 42 tents in all so far.
Despite the unsafe and harsh conditions at al-Tanf, the number of Palestinian refugees from Iraq in the camp is growing as Palestinians who entered Syria on false passports are identified and deported to the camp. Many camp residents described to Amnesty International the horrific events that prompted them to flee Iraq and have left them traumatized.
The people in al-Tanf are also traumatized by the harsh conditions in the camp and the fear that they may be stuck there for many more years. One resident pleaded with Amnesty International delegates to “save us from this hell.”
In addition, some 2000 Palestinian refugees are at al-Waleed camp in the Iraqi desert, facing even greater hardship as access by aid organizations and the UN Refugee Agency is extremely difficult. Their living conditions are dire and the only solution to their plight is resettlement to a third country.
As of February 2008, almost 300 other Palestinians were in al-Hol camp at al-Hassakah, north-east Syria; most were moved there from the Iraq-Jordan border in May 2006.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes resettlement in third countries is the only possible durable solution for the Palestinians from Iraq at the present time. While hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled from Iraq to Syria and Jordan, both countries have generally barred the entry of Palestinian refugees from Iraq.
The Chilean government has offered to resettle an initial group of 116 Palestinians from al-Tanf. So far some 64 have arrived in Chile with the remaining group due to follow shortly.
A number of other governments outside the Middle East are reported to have said that they will resettle some of al-Tanf’s residents, but the refugees’ plight is desperate and resettlement to a safe third country cannot come quickly enough.
Amnesty International has launched a global campaign to draw attention to the plight of Palestinian refugees from Iraq highlighting the need for immediate action.
The organization has asked its members and supporters to call for urgent international help in resettling these Palestinians and other particularly vulnerable refugees from Iraq.
Download interviews with some of the refugees in the camp: