This report documents the plight of refugees and other non-nationals in Iraq after the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein on April 11, 2003.1 As of April 30, 2003, more than 1500 people, of whom some 560 were Palestinians2 had fled Iraq for Jordan, where they were being held in refugee camps in difficult conditions at the border.
For a variety of reasons, all foreigners, but particularly Palestinians, are especially vulnerable to abuse by segments of the Iraqi population in U.S. occupied Iraq. In research in Baghdad and two refugee camps in Jordan, Human Rights Watch documented harassment and insecurity amongst many nationalities of foreigners in Iraq. Human Rights Watch also documented physical threats against and forced evictions of Palestinians by Iraqis who expressed resentment for the preferential treatment afforded Palestinians under the Saddam Hussein government.
In part, foreigners are suffering like other residents of Baghdad from the general lack of security-almost no police and many armed men. Others who had been living as refugees in Iraq felt particularly vulnerable when U.N. agencies stopped work in the country, starting in late February and continuing until March 18, when all international staff were evacuated in advance of imminent war, which began on March 20, 2003.3 Their fears intensified when law and order broke down after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government.
Palestinians have been particularly prone to abuse by persons angered by the government's subsidies for Palestinians. Some families were threatened by armed men, who told them to leave. Others left after guns were fired at their homes. A key point of contention is the former housing policies of the Iraqi government. Under the Saddam Hussein government and previous governments in Iraq, Palestinians were provided either free or highly subsidized houses or apartments. In many cases, Iraqis were forced to freeze the rents for Palestinian families-across time resulting in rental payments of less than the equivalent of $1 a month. Alternatively, the government paid rents for Palestinian refugees, which they were unable to pay themselves once the government fell. After Baghdad's fall, Iraqi property owners, many of them Shi'a Muslims evicted their Palestinian tenants by force.
This report is divided into four main parts. The first addresses the harassment and physical attacks that prompted refugees and other foreigners to flee Iraq, and urges the United States and its allies to prevent human rights abuses against vulnerable populations in Iraq, including refugees and other non-nationals. The second part addresses their reception and conditions inside or near the Jordanian border, and recommends that all refugees, including those currently trapped in the no-man's land, receive effective protection and assistance inside Jordan. The third part of this report gives some background on conditions for refugees and other foreigners inside Iraq before the U.S.-led war began. The fourth part gives Human Rights Watch's detailed recommendations on the situation for refugees and other non-nationals in Iraq and Jordan, including some forward-looking recommendations on what conditions must be in place before voluntary returns can be considered.
Research for this report was conducted by a team of Human Rights Watch researchers in Amman, Jordan from March 21 until April 17, at the refugee camps near al-Ruweished in Jordan from April 26 - 28, and in Baghdad from April 27 - 29 and May 7. It has been supplemented by additional research performed by Human Rights Watch staff in New York.
1 U.S. troops took over Baghdad and British forces took over Basra on April 7, 2003. On April 11, U.S. General Tommy Franks announced, "the Saddam regime has ended," and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer added, "the regime is gone." See "Major Events in Iraq Since the War Started," Associated Press, May 1, 2003.
2 Joint NGO Emergency Preparedness Initiative (JNEPI), "Update," Jordan, April 30, 2003. See also United Nations Department of Public Information, "Update," April 30, 2003.
3 See e.g. "U.N. Reduces Humanitarian Staff in Iraq," Associated Press, February 21, 2003. See also "Inspectors Poised to Leave Iraq," The Guardian, March 17, 2003.