Zuhair Irsan prefers life in a makeshift refugee camp on the Syrian-Iraqi border to staying in Baghdad where he says Palestinians like him are being targeted for no reason.

"I came here fleeing death and detention. I was arrested for 75 days, during which I saw death many times," said the 50-year-old man who recently fled the capital with his wife and two children and has been trying to enter Syria for weeks.
"I was detained by the (Iraqi) Interior Ministry just because I'm a Palestinian and the ministry refuses to renew our residency."

Although their hopes are dim that the Syrian authorities will allow them into the country, the 194 Palestinians camped here are reluctant to return to Baghdad.

Palestinians began flocking to the Tanaf checkpoint on the Syria-Iraq border, some 190 miles northeast of Damascus, on May 11, two days after Syrian authorities allowed 287 Palestinians who were stranded for two months on the Iraq-Jordan border to enter its territory in what Syria said was a "humanitarian" gesture.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry has said it will not allow additional Palestinians coming from Iraq to enter its territory. Still, the Palestinians cling to the hope that the Syrian government will change its position.

The ban appears aimed at discouraging the estimated 34,000 Palestinians who live in Iraq from heading to Syria, already home to about 500,000 Palestinians.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has set up a temporary camp for the Palestinians and is providing them with food, water and medical care, the organization's representative in Syria, Abdel-Hamid El-Ouali, said.

But in spite of Damascus' ban, Palestinians are expected to head to the border in increasing numbers in the coming days when the school year wraps up in Iraq.

Some 25 people, most of them elderly, have left the camp since it was set up because they were unable to bear the scorching heat of the desert. Of those who remain, the majority - 126 - are women and children.

Zaydan Hassan, 28, said five members of his family returned to the capital "because they could not stand the harsh atmosphere here."
But for Hassan and others, the desert is the best of their unenviable options.
"I prefer to live here in the desert over returning to Baghdad because there I would die - although I don't know how. It could be shooting, burning or stabbing," Hassan said as he sat in front of the tent he shares with his family. "There is absolutely no security there."
Another camp resident, Mohammed Hussein Mahmoud, 38, said he was detained by Interior Ministry forces for 42 days on charges of detonating a car. "I was tortured for 16 days around the clock just because I am a Palestinian."
"I prefer to stay here all my life than return to Iraq," he said.

Iraq's ousted leader Saddam Hussein, who liked to be seen as a champion of Arab causes, provided Palestinian refugees in Iraq with privileges like free housing, stipends and government jobs. The largesse he showed them enraged many Iraqis, who coped with the deprivations of nearly 13 years of U.N. sanctions, which ended after Saddam's 2003 overthrow, without such support.

Ahmed Nour al-Deen, 25, said he came here 25 days ago with his wife and daughter, and was seeking asylum anywhere in the world "that could ensure a safe life for my family, far from violence."

Scores of Iraqis attacked Palestinian homes in Baghdad after the regime's fall, seeing them as Saddam supporters. That wave of attacks forced many to flee the country or go into hiding.
"Some Iraqis bombed my house and tried to kill me in the street. I was threatened four times. My friends asked me not to come back because militants were looking for me," Nour al-Deen said. "I will not return to Iraq no matter how much it costs. Returning means death because they have told us that Iraq is for Iraqis alone - not for Palestinians."


Hits: 1629