The US is generally reluctant to resettle Palestinians, but these are refugees from Iraq who have been targeted since the invasion.
US takes 1,350 Palestinian refugees
By Patrik Jonsson
The Christian Science Monitor
Reporter Patrik Jonsson talks with CSMonitor.com's Pat Murphy about the US State Department giving asylum to Palestinians living in an Iraqi refugee camp.
Atlanta - The State Department confirmed today that as many as 1,350 Iraqi Palestinians – once the well-treated guests of Saddam Hussein and now at outs with much of Iraqi society – will be resettled in the US, mostly in southern California, starting this fall.
It will be the largest-ever resettlement of Palestinian refugees into the US – and welcome news to the Palestinians who fled to Iraq after 1948 but who have had a tough time since Mr. Hussein was deposed in 2003. Targeted by Iraqi Shiites, the mostly-Sunni Palestinians have spent recent years in one of the region's roughest refugee camps, Al Waleed, near Iraq's border with Syria.
"Really for the first time, the United States is recognizing a Palestinian refugee population that could be admitted to the US as part of a resettlement program," says Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch in Washington.
Given the US's past reluctance to resettle Palestinians – it accepted just seven Palestinians in 2007 and nine in 2008 – the effort could ruffle some diplomatic feathers.
For many in the State Department and international community, the resettlement is part of a moral imperative the US has to clean up the refugee crisis created by invading Iraq. The US has already stepped up resettlement of Iraqis, some who have struggled to adjust to life in America.
The resettlement of Iraqi Palestinians is "an important gesture for the United States to demonstrate that we're not heartless," says Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at New York University.
But some critics say the State Department is sloughing off its problems onto American cities, especially since in this case the Palestinians were sympathizers of Hussein, who was deposed by the US.
"This is politically a real hot potato," says Mark Krikorian, director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, adding, "[A]merica has become a dumping ground for the State Department's problems – they're tossing their problems over their head into Harrisburg, Pa., or Omaha, Neb."
Palestinian refugees came to Iraq in successive waves over several decades, first in 1948, then in 1967, and in 1991. They were treated well under Hussein but were also used to attack Israeli policies, and their presence was resented by many Iraqis.
After Hussein was deposed in 2003, many of these Palestinians were driven out of their homes and now live "at the mercy of the weather" in rough camps along the Syrian and Jordanian border, says Mr. Ben-Meir. The number of Palestinians in Iraq has fallen from around 34,000 to an estimated 15,000, with about 2,773 living in camps, according to the State Department.
The US, which takes in about 80,000 refugees annually, hopes to bring 17,000 Iraqi refugees this year.
Categorized as Iraqi refugees
While the US generally doesn't accept Palestinians, Todd Pierce, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, says that the Iraqi population of Palestinians falls under a different category from those in Gaza and the West Bank. Each applicant will be carefully scrutinized for terrorist ties, he adds.
The US reluctance to accept Palestinians is because it "doesn't want the refugee program to become an issue in its relationship with Israel," says a diplomat in the region, who requested anonymity because he is not cleared to talk to the press. But these Palestinians, he says, will be processed as refugees from Iraq.
Mr. Krikorian says the US should be the last refuge for those fleeing persecution. Only Jordan of all the Arab countries routinely grants citizenship to Palestinian refugees, he notes. More recently, says Mr. Frelick, Jordan has also shut its borders to Palestinians coming from Iraq.
Frelick, who has visited a camp on the Jordanian border, said the Iraqi Palestinians are "apolitical," and "basically desperate, scared, miserable, and ready to just get out of Iraq."
The agony of Iraq's Palestinians
By Nisreen El-Shamayleh
The al-Waleed camp houses about 1,500 Palestinian refugees who fled Iraq's capital, Baghdad
In a series of special reports, Al Jazeera examines the plight of refugees across the globe to mark Refugee Day on Saturday, June 20.
In the past few years, the Palestinians' 61-year-old tragedy has been given a new dimension.
The Palestinian refugees of Iraq, who became victims of persecution and violence before being chased from their Baghdad homes after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, are among the world's most vulnerable communities.
The tents of al-Waleed camp in the deserts of Iraq near the Syrian border offer the only home to about 1,500 Palestinian refugees who had been living in the Iraqi capital.
The isolated camp was set up in 2006 by the refugees themselves as they had nowhere to flee to except the closest no-man's land.
The stranded refugees live in precarious conditions and have been unable to gain entry into any neighbouring Arab country.
Residents say they have been harassed and persecuted by armed groups as well as US and Iraqi forces since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), there are about 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq.
As many as 23,000 of them are registered with the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in Baghdad.
Palestinians 'stranded' in Iraq refugee camp
The Palestinians' flights to Iraq occurred mainly in 1948, 1967 and 1991.
Many of those who arrived in 1948 after the creation of the state of Israel were treated exceptionally well under Saddam's government, causing some Iraqis to resent and envy them.
Some say that immediately after the fall of his government, the refugees began to be seen by Shia groups and government forces as collaborating with Sunni anti-government fighters.
Before the 2003 US-led war on Iraq, Palestinians had been well integrated into society, having Iraqi nationality and full civil rights and even speaking Iraqi dialects.
But as soon as violence and lawlessness reigned in Iraq, armed groups started targeting Palestinians in the Baghdad neighbourhoods of Baladiyat, al-Hurriyah and Iskan.
Since March 2006, a steady flow of Palestinians has been leaving Baghdad. People arrive at al-Waleed camp on a regular basis and most come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
These vulnerable people fled the murders of their family members and death threats only to face horrendous conditions in the desert.
The camp suffers from poor hygiene and an absence of medical care amid extreme weather conditions.
Children, women and the elderly have died due to the lack of adequate healthcare.
The tents are overcrowded and leave residents vulnerable to extreme weather conditions
The nearest hospital is four hours drive' away along a dangerous route.
The tents are overcrowded and many residents have chronic respiratory ailments, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems.
Tents fill with water when it rains, and temperatures can fall below freezing in the winter.
In the summer, temperatures above 50C have been recorded, while sandstorms, fires, snakes and scorpions all present dangers.
With no sewage system, waste water runs openly through the camp, leading to a higher occurrence of disease and infections among children who play between the tents.
In November 2008, the camp was moved to a gated area with improved security, running water and electricity and a health clinic employing two doctors.
Children attend a makeshift school on the old site, run by teachers who are also refugees. Isolation from the outside world presents severe schooling difficulties.
The destitute residents remain exclusively dependent on international aid and humanitarian assistance.
Desperate to draw international attention to their suffering, the refugees have staged open sit-ins in the past three years, demanding that Arab and international leaders find an immediate and durable solution for them through resettlement in a Western country.
Children at the camp attend a makeshift school run by teachers who are also refugees
Although there have been some improvements in facilities recently, the tents have not turned into more solid structures due to the fear that such a set-up would encourage permanent settlement and need longer-term solutions in one of the most unforgiving locations of the world.
Last year, the Iraqi ministry of displacement and migration called on all Palestinians at al-Waleed to return to their homes in Baghdad, promising them financial compensation, assistance and protection.
But the ultimate goal of the camp's residents is to get out of Iraq as soon as possible without getting hurt.
The UNHCR has two permanent field staff in the camp, and through its implementing partner, Islamic Relief Worldwide, it provides assistance in the form of food, non-food items, healthcare and education.
However, the camp was never meant to be a permanent settlement.
There is an urgent need for these refugees to be resettled in order that they can find security, a permanent living status and rights.
The UNHCR has conducted a vigorous search for homes for the refugees and is negotiating with a number of countries that might be able to offer asylum.
In 2008 and 2009, 375 people left for resettlement in Iceland, the UK, the US, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway.
Last April, 59 residents were temporarily moved to Romania before being resettled in a third country through the UNHCR, based on an agreement between the Romanian government, UNHCR and IOM.
Another 1,200 refugees are also expected to move to Romania temporarily before being resettled in the US.
The UNHCR is seeking resettlement for all the 433 families living at the camp.
But the goal of relocating every resident by the end of this year remains far from being achieved.
September 10, 2009 [NOTE: Old news but probably still need help]
Urgent Help Needed to Support Palestinians Arriving in the US from Iraq
TO ALL AL-AWDA MEMBERS AND SUPPORTERS
The US government has approved the entire population of Al-Waleed Palestinian refugee camp for resettlement as refugees in the US in the coming year.
The first Palestinian family of the year will be arriving next week in San Diego on Wednesday September 16, 2009. This family, as with all the refugees who will be relocated to the US from Al-Waleed, will arrive essentially with essentially nothing. Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, is therefore conducting an urgent fund raising campaign to help all the Palestinian refugees arriving in the US soon with their transition to a new life in this country.
An estimated 19,000 Palestinians, out of an initial population of 34,000, fled Iraq since the American invasion in 2003. Of these refugees, approximately 2500 have been stranded, under very harsh conditions, some for more than five years, in three camps, Al-Tanaf, Al-Waleed and Al-Hol. These camps are located in the middle of the desert far from any population centers. Al-Tanaf camp is located in no-man's land on the borders between Iraq and Syria. Al-Waleed in located on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria and Al-Hol is located in Syria in the Hasaka region. The camp residents had fled largely from Baghdad due to harassment, threats of deportation, abuse by the media, arbitrary detention, torture and murder by organized death squads. They thus became refugees again, originally as a result of the Zionist theft and colonial occupation of Palestine beginning in 1948. Some became refugees also when they were expelled from Kuwait in 1991 by the US-backed Kuwaiti government. Now, after years of waiting, many of the refugees stranded in the camps on the borders of Iraq are being relocated largely to Europe and the US, which continues its occupation of Iraq to this day.
The first Palestinian family from Al-Waleed this year will be arriving in San Diego on September 16, 2009, a few days before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with 1350 more Palestinians to follow in the months ahead. According to the Christian Science Monitor most of these will be resettled in California and possibly Pennsylvania and Omaha.
Al-Awda is asking all its activists, members and supporters to contribute to help our sisters and brothers in their move to the US.
Please donate today!
Address your tax-deductible donation via check or money order to: Al-Awda, PRRC, PO Box 131352, Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA - Please note on the memo line of the check "Palestinians from Iraq"
Alternatively, please donate online using your credit card. Go to http://www.al-awda.org/donate.html and follow the simple instructions. Please indicate that your donation is for "Palestinians from Iraq" with your submission.
Drop off locations:
We will also need furniture, cars, clothes, toys for the kids etc. The following are the current drop off locations:
8531 Wellsford pl # f, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
Te: 562-693-1600 Tel: 323-350-0000
1773 West Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, CA 92801
Our sisters and brothers need all the help they can get after having suffered from the death squads in Baghdad, and more than five years stranded in the camps. We need our people to feel at home as much as possible. We can not disappoint them.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR GENEROUS SUPPORT
Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
PO Box 131352
Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA
Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC) is a not for profit tax-exempt educational and charitable 501(c)(3) organization as defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States of America. Under IRS guidelines, your donations to PRRC are tax-deductible.
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