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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Iraq Palestinians taste bitter exile
By Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Damascus

Walid camp
Walid camp lies in a remote spot in the desert between Iraq and Syria
Many Palestinians have escaped the death squads of Iraq only to face an uncertain future on the desert border between Iraq and Syria.

When Mustapha Said set off to the condolences tent for his father-in-law in January, he had a feeling his life was in danger.

The wave of attacks against Palestinians had finally reached his family.

As the 27-year-old was returning home in Baghdad's Zafaraniya neighbourhood, he saw his own house was in flames.

"I was scared to death and couldn't get any closer. I called my wife to check she was OK and she was crying with fear. They didn't allow them even to take one single document with them. They watched the house burning before their eyes."

Anywhere in the world is heaven for us, just take us away from hell here
Mustapha Said

Mustapha drove his taxi away from the burning house and asked his wife and family to meet him somewhere away from danger.

They all left to Baladiat neighbourhood and stayed in a compound for Palestinians.

Over the next two months, Mr Said and his dependants - wife, two daughters, mother and sister-in-law - went from house to house, seeking shelter and support from extended family and friends.


Only in April did Mr Said manage to borrow enough money to flee to al-Walid camp on the Syria-Iraq Boarder, 550km (300 miles) west of Baghdad.

With Syria not allowing any Palestinian refugees to leave Iraq, their only shelter has been a tent given by the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. Even Mustapha's car has been stolen.

"We have been refugees since 1948. And now we are living in the desert. We don't want the right of return to Palestine [what is now Israel]. All we need is to live as humans," Mr Said told the BBC by telephone.

"We need schools for our children, medicines for our sick. Anywhere in the world is heaven for us but take us away from hell here. No-one is helping us. We need to live safely."

Samira, Mustapha's 13-year-old sister-in-law, suffers from a chronic medical condition affecting her mobility.

Since her father's killing three months ago she has been in a wheelchair and she says she desperately needs a back operation to avoid being completely paralysed.

"I used to walk, but since my father passed away I am not able to do that. There is no medicine for me. I want to recover and walk again."

Acute suffering

The UNHCR office in Syria has called for urgent action to help Palestinians unable to flee the violence in Iraq.

Palestinians enjoyed generous financial support from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who championed the Palestinian cause. This was the cause of resentment, and Palestinians have been targeted because of their association to the former regime.

Walid camp
Refugees with medical conditions have little chance of being treated

Iraq had 30,000 refugees registered with the United Nation; between 200 and 300 have been killed since the toppling of Saddam in 2003.

More than 900 Palestinians are now stranded on the Syria-Iraq border, most of them having fled Baghdad.

"People are very much in need and there is extremely limited capacity to assist them," says Michelle Alfaro, Iraq protection officer for UNHCR.

The nearest hospital to al-Walid camp is 400km away. People are suffering the heat, lack of water and medical care.

People who have been recorded dying at the border include Osama Jamal Zouhdi, 28, an asthma sufferer, and five-month-old Ritaj Omar Saleh who died of fever.

Wider solution

There is a rising concern over health conditions and the possibility of an outbreak of contagious disease, especially among children.

Dr Tareq Adnan Salim, who has been appointed by an Italian aid agency in al-Walid camp says there are many serious cases that need treatment.

"We can provide medicines for simple cases, but there are dozens of cases that need emergency help."

The UNHCR is hoping Syria will allow in critical medical cases for treatment.

Syria, which allowed 250 Palestinian refugees in 2006, has denied entry to any more and says the solution should involve other countries in the region taking a proportion of Palestinian refugees from Iraq.

Damascus has received more than 1.2 million Iraqi refugees since the war started. It already hosts 400,000 Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to leave their homes when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

Names of refugees have been changed for their and their families' security

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