Iraqi Palestinians are a people twice removed - double refugees. Expelled from the new state of Israel in 1948, about 90,000 Palestinians came to Iraq because, despite the cruelties of the Hussein regime, it was better than some of their other alternatives. In fact, Palestinians are viewed as sort of poor-relations throughout the Middle East, and frequently face discrimination and mistreatment. At least under Saddam, they received housing subsidies to compensate for not having the right to own land.
According to Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Palestinians in Iraq were the first targets after the U.S. invasion in 2003. They were kicked out of their homes, and many fled before the borders became secure. But without citizenship or proper identification, thousands of Iraqi Palestinians remain stranded in "no man's land" camps on the Syrian and Jordanian borders -- unable to return to Iraq out of fear for their lives, and unable to enter neighboring countries due to internal Arab and Israeli politics (Arab states fear Palestinians will become permanent squatters, and Israel has nixed any prospect for resettlement in Gaza).
About a thousand are trapped in a Baghdad camp, where they live in increasing squalor with limited water, sanitation and electricity. "The [Palestinian Iraqi] refugees express sentiments that they are treated as if they don't matter, as if there are too many of them, and no one cares about them," Shapiro stated at the Iraqi Refugee Roundtable Strategy Session last May. "[They] face killings, lootings, torture and imprisonment."
Conditions in the Palestinian Iraqi refugee camps on the Syrian and Jordanian borders are particularly dire. "No man, woman or child should be living in that environment," said Sybella Wilkes, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Damascus, one of the few organizations able to gain access to the camps. Wilkes reports deaths, miscarriages, suicide attempts, fires, floods, dust storms and unbearable heat amongst contributing factors to the anguish of the camps' residents.
"These refugees are in danger of being completely eliminated," Shapiro stated. He advocates increasing the numbers of Palestinian Iraqi refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S., and helping other countries, such as Chile, with the funding and logistics of resettlement.
But the Palestinian Iraqi refugees must have a more immediate humanitarian solution if they are to survive. The U.S. and other nations -- including the Arab states claiming outrage against Israel at the plight of Palestinians -- must step up and provide shelter, food, clothing and especially medical care for these people. Before it's too late.