Background Briefing

Palestinian Refugees from Iraq

In September 2006 Human Rights Watch published a report on the situation of Palestinian refugees in Iraq.  The title, “Nowhere to Flee,” still applies to their situation.  The report documented brutal targeting of Palestinians, mostly by Shi`a militias, but showed that what distinguished Palestinians from Iraqi citizens whose lives were also threatened was their total lack of any exit.  While the flow of Iraqi refugees may now be a mere trickle, the movement of Palestinian refugees from Iraq—one of the most vulnerable groups in the country—continues to be stopped cold.  About 1,200 Palestinians remain stranded in three border camps strewn in the vicinity of Syria’s border with Iraq: al-Tanf, in the no-man’s land between the checkpoints separating exit from Iraq and entry to Syria; al-Walid, on the Iraqi side of the Syrian border; and Al-Hul, inside Syria. 

Fewer than 100 Palestinian refugees remain at al-Ruwaishid camp in a remote desert area in Jordan’s far east, about 85 kilometers from the Iraqi border.  Relative to the Palestinians stuck in Iraq or the no-man’s land, they are the “lucky” ones who arrived first—in April 2003, at the start of the war before Jordan had shut its borders completely to Palestinians.  A group of fewer than 200 Iranian Kurdish refugees are encamped in the no-man’s land between Iraq and Jordan, and have also been denied entry to Jordan. 

Syrian authorities allowed the 300 Palestinian refugees at al-Hul into Syria in May 2006 after they had been stranded at the Jordanian border.  But shortly after that welcome transfer, as new groups of Palestinians fled toward the Syrian border, Syria, too, closed its borders to Palestinian refugees—and it has remained shut to Palestinians.

This year, following a new escalation of kidnappings and murders of Palestinians in Baghdad, hundreds of Palestinian refugees again attempted to flee to Syria, but the Syrian authorities refused them entry.

In preparation for this briefing paper, Human Rights Watch sought the permission of the Syrian authorities to visit the Iraqi Palestinian camps inside Syria, in the no-man’s land, and on the Iraqi side of the border.  The Syrian government not only denied this request, but refused Human Rights Watch visas to Syria to assess the situation of Iraqi refugees as well.