iraq bombing 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian refugees in Iraq are the hidden victims of the Iraq conflict, according to a new report published on Monday by London-based human rights group Amnesty International.
The report, "Iraq: Human Rights Abuses Against Palestinian Refugees," looks at the human rights abuses committed against Palestinians living in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 and highlights the lack of action by the Iraqi government and the Multi-National Force to protect them.
As Iraq plunged into chaos over the years, and the sectarian strife between Shi'ites and Sunni intensified, Palestinians have become more vulnerable.
They do not have an armed group or militia to protect them, as do Iraqi Shi'ite and Sunni communities, and some Shi'ite religious groups have tried to link them to insurgents fighting Iraqi troops and US forces.
"Palestinians are currently one of the most vulnerable groups in Iraq. They are being hunted down, abducted, tortured and, in some cases, killed without any effective steps being taken to protect them," said Malcolm Smart, Middle East and North Africa Program director at Amnesty.
"They also face great obstacles in seeking refuge as the authorities in both Syria and Jordan, the main countries hosting Iraqi refugees, remain extremely reluctant to allow Palestinian refugees to enter their territory, and there is now a pressing need for other countries to resettle those most at risk," he said.
Palestinians living in Iraq suffer threats, torture, killings and appalling living conditions in refugee camps such al-Waleed near the Syrian border, according the report.
Since 2003, the report says, dozens of Palestinians have been abducted by armed groups with their bodies being found later in morgues or dumped on the streets, often mutilated or with clear marks of torture. Many others have been forced to flee their homes after receiving death threats. Some are currently in hiding in Iraq or stranded in camps on the Syria border, living in extremely harsh conditions.
In addition, according to the report, some Palestinians have been arrested and detained by Iraqi security forces on suspicion of involvement in insurgency activities or maintaining links with Sunni insurgents. Most of those arrested have been released without charge, but many say they were tortured or ill-treated while in detention.
The joint Palestinian-International Middle East Media Center put the number of Palestinians killed since 2003 in Iraq at more than 320 by the beginning of this year, but this, they say, may have been a low estimate. A representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon sent Amnesty a list of nearly 500 names stating that the attacks and killings are continuing.
Palestinians are being targeted as a minority group by armed militia groups because they are perceived by some Iraqis to have received preferential treatment under the Ba'ath regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein. As non-Iraqis, who are mainly Sunni, they have also been suspected of supporting or sympathizing with Sunnis involved in the insurgency against the predominantly Shi'ite government and the Multi-National Force.
In August, Mostafa Ahmad, a 27-year-old taxi driver, was waiting at a petrol station near al-Baladiyat when he was attacked and abducted by armed men believed to belong to the Mahdi Army, a militia-type force loyal to Shi'ite religious leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Two days later, the abductors used his mobile phone to call his family and told them that they could collect his body from the morgue. A relative who saw Ahmad's body told Amnesty that he had drill holes in his corpse and his teeth appeared to have been ripped out with pliers. He had also been shot six times in the head and upper body. No investigation into his abduction and murder has been instigated.
Around 15,000 Palestinians reside in Iraq, including those in camps near the border with Syria, and are in legal limbo. They are recognized as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR.) However, few countries in the region, or beyond, are willing to accept them for resettlement.
The human rights organization also called on the Syrian and Jordanian governments to allow Palestinian refugees to enter their territory and appealed to the international community to fulfill their international obligations and assist with the resettlement of Palestinian refugees.