- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, April 20 (UPI) — The U.N refugee agency said Sunday more than 1,000 refugees "fleeing armed Iraqi groups and desperately seeking food and other humanitarian aid" were stranded in a no-man's land on the Iraqi-Jordanian border because Jordanian authorities were refusing them entry into a refugee camp.

Peter Kessler, spokesman of U.N High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, said the number of refugees, many of them Iranian Kurds and Palestinians, was increasing "by the hour."

He told reporters in the Jordanian capital, Amman, the number of people arriving at the Jordanian border from Iraq had gone up from 870 to more than 1,000 within two hours on Sunday, including 400 children and infants.

The U.N spokesman in Amman, Nejib Friji, said reports from Iraq "indicate widespread intimidation and displacement in and around the city of Kirkuk and in other areas."

He said U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan "is concerned that unless the security vacuum that now exists is quickly addressed, there is a very real prospect of population displacement in Iraq."

Friji said the U.N chief "appeals to all concerned to respect fundamental human rights principles, including the right to live free from intimidation and forced expulsion."

The spokesman said it was up to the "occupying powers to observe the international charters and look after the welfare of civilians."

A Palestinian who lived most of his life in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, said Palestinian refugees had lived as "equal citizens and were protected" under the former regime of Saddam Hussein, which had provided free housing units for the families, free education and medical care.

He said their loyalty to the collapsed regime might be the reason for reprisals and intimidation by armed Iraqis.

Kessler quoted the refugees as saying there "has been an organized campaign by armed Iraqi groups targeting Palestinians living in Baghdad. Palestinian families were being forced from their homes by the armed Iraqis who told them that if they refused to leave, the men would be killed and the women raped."

He said that while the UNHCR could not verify these claims, there were more than 130 Palestinians, including many children, stuck at the border.

He said most of them were longtime residents of Iraq "but escaped with very few personal effects."

Regarding the fleeing Iranian refugees, Kessler said the UNHCR was "unable to determine exactly what occurred at Iraq's Al-Tash refugee camp to cause more than 570 Iranian refugees who have so far fled the site to seek entry in Jordan."

He said more than 120,000 Iranian Kurds lived at Al-Tash camp, in Iraq's eastern Ambar governorate, for the past 20 years. The spokesman added among the refugees were "60 elderly Iranians recognized as refugees by various European and North American countries."

He said some of the refugees have been "stuck at the makeshift no-man's land site for more than two weeks to enter Jordan's empty refugee camp at Ruwaished," 35 miles from the border.

He said it was not clear why the Jordanian authorities would not allow the refugees into the Ruwaished camp, noting that UNHCR representatives have held a series of meetings with top government officials in Amman in the past few days to resolve their status.

Jordanian officials told United Press International the government "was looking into the matter and contacting their respective embassies to ensure their repatriation."

They said an unspecified number of those stranded on the border were members of the opposition Iranian Mujahedee Khalq guerilla group — once based in Iraq — carrying European, American and Canadian refugee travel documents.

Officials refused to comment on the stranded Palestinians.

Jordan, which is already home to the bulk of the Palestinian refugee population that fled their homes in the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, does not allow entry to any more Palestinians who carry travel documents from other Arab countries.

More than half of the kingdom's population is originally Palestinian, and Amman has repeatedly said it would not become an "alternative homeland" to the Palestinians, insisting they be granted their independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Kessler complained that although canned food was making its way to the refugees, the conditions at the makeshift camp in the no-man's land "are rapidly deteriorating, and some of the new arrivals have serious medical problems that require hospital treatment."

He said the area where the refugees were stranded "is no place for humans to reside. It lacks proper sanitation facilities and it is becoming a very urgent matter that they enter the camps."

He said the UNHCR has "spent more than $1.2 million preparing the refugee camp in Ruwaished…Jordan has admitted only six Iraqi refugees and the camp remains unused."

Jordan signed a memorandum agreement with the UNHCR last month promising Amman's cooperation to shelter refugees in the camp, provided those fleeing the war would remain temporarily.

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