U.N.: U.S. offers refuge to Palestinians

  |   April 5, 2007 at 10:41 AM
DAMASCUS, Syria, April 5 (UPI) -- The head of a U.N. agency charged with caring for Palestinian refugees said the United States has offered to receive 7,000 Palestinians who fled Iraq.

Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said Thursday no specific country has offered to receive Palestinian refugees in Iraq, "but I know the United States confirmed it can take 7,000 of them."

She told United Press International in Damascus that while there were no plans to permanently settle Palestinian refugees, "some live in difficult conditions, especially those from Iraq and who are stranded on the Iraqi borders" with Syria and with Jordan. The UNRWA chief noted her agency and the U.N. high commissioner for refugees have requested third countries to grant refuge to Palestinians from Iraq.

Since Saddam Hussein's ouster in April 2003, thousands of Palestinian refugees have fled Iraq, and many of them remain stranded in makeshift camps on Iraq's borders with Syria and Jordan. These two states have not allowed entry to the majority of them on the grounds that increasing the Palestinian refugee population in their territories might facilitate their "permanent settlement," and thus lose their right to return to their original homes where Israel was established in 1948.

The number of Palestinians fleeing from Iraq surged in the past year to escape targeted killings and kidnappings by Shiite militiamen in what is believed to be acts of vengeance against a community that lived somewhat freely and comfortably under Saddam's regime.

AbuZayd said UNHCR was handling the issue of about 15,000 Palestinians still in Iraq and is the international organization authorized to negotiate with the Iraqi government regarding their conditions.

UNRWA has helped almost 4.4 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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