Palestinian-Iraqi refugees are some of the forgotten victims of the Iraq war. In 1948, Palestinians were forced to flee from Palestine and became refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 34,000 Palestinian refugees were living in Iraq when the United States and its allies invaded in 2003.
After the invasion, many Palestinians faced harassment, threats of deportation, death threats, abuse by the media, arbitrary detention, torture and murder.
The occupation of Iraq has led to Palestinian neighbourhoods such as al-Hurriyya and al-Baladiyyat in Baghdad being routinely bombarded and attacked by the US forces and several post-invasion armed militias.
Many Palestinians have been killed, imprisoned or forced to leave Iraq.
Al-awdacal.org reported in December 2009: “Many were expelled from their homes and initially took shelter in tents in Haifa stadium in Baghdad. According to the UNHCR, about 21,000 have left the country since 2003, and only 13,000 remain.”
A number of Palestinians who were forced to leave are now stranded in refugee camps on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
University of Melbourne lecturer and community radio 3CR presenter Yousef Alreemawi initiated the Australian Society for Palestinian Iraqi Refugees Emergency (ASPIRE) in September 2007 to help the Palestinian Iraqi refugees, especially by campaigning for the Australian government to resettle them.
ASPIRE involves many Australian and Arab volunteers, including academics, lawyers and musicians.
Alreemawi explained to a public meeting organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on September 9 that, unlike Iraqi refugees, Palestinian-Iraqis were denied access to Jordan and Syria. This was because Iraq never allowed Palestinians to become citizens with Iraqi passports.
The Palestinians have travel documents, which have mostly expired, but no passports.
The Palestinians initially went to the Jordan border but were denied access. They then travelled to the Syrian border after hearing that Syria would accept them. But Syria blocked them from living in the cities, leaving hundreds of Palestinian-Iraqi refugees languishing in desert camps on the border between Iraq and Syria.
Alreemawi said that these children, women and men had lived there for five years, enduring sandstorms and extreme heat in summer, extreme cold in winter and the risk of snake bites.
In December 2009, the united efforts of the ASPIRE volunteers and Amnesty International-Australia led to the Australian government approving 16 families making up 68 people from El Hol Palestinian-Iraqi refugee camp for humanitarian refugee status. They are now living in Melbourne and Perth.
There are still around 1000 Palestinian-Iraqi refugees living in the four camps, said Alreemawi. ASPIRE is in the second phase of its campaign to get Australia to resettle more families.