Some of the most desperate refugees stranded in the Iraqi desert will move to Iceland and Sweden under a resettlement program announced on Tuesday by the United Nations refugee agency.
Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that more than two dozen Palestinians who have been stuck on the Iraq-Syria border for the last two years will be leaving for Iceland in the coming weeks.
Another 155 Palestinian refugees who fled Iraq only to be stuck on the edge of Syria, which has refused them entry, have been cleared for a move to Sweden, Redmond said.
"The two groups include some of the most vulnerable women and children with urgent medical needs requiring immediate attention," he told a news briefing in Geneva.
There are 2,300 Palestinians living in two refugee camps along the Syria-Iraq border who cannot return to Iraq or enter neighboring countries. In the past 14 months, a dozen people have died among that group that lacks proper medical care.
Iraq had a community of 30,000 Palestinian refugees before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. They became the target of attacks after the war began, mainly by the anti-Saddam Shi'ite community, partly because of the Baghdad government's support for the Palestinians under his rule.
Syria, which is home to a large community of exiled Iraqis, took in 250 Palestinian refugees from Iraq in 2006 but then closed its borders to them. A small number of the Palestinians stranded in the desert have since been resettled in Europe and in Brazil and Chile, and Sudan has also offered to host some.
"We hope that all of the Palestinians will be able to leave the harsh conditions of the camps sooner rather than later," Redmond said.
Since Saddam's removal from power, the Palestinian media has reported of cases of assault, robbery, detention, kidnapping, torture and murder, leveled against Palestinian refugees, whose ancestors fled during the War of Independence from Arab villages in the Haifa area.
The Iraqi army, that occupied the northern West Bank during the war, forcibly drafted the villagers, and let their families into Iraq upon their defeat, but were not granted Iraqi citizenship or passports.
They did not register with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA). Rather, Saddam Hussein, keen to express his devotion to the Palestinian cause, gave them privileged rights.
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