BAGHDAD - Of the approximately 30,000 Palestinians who were registered in Iraq in 2003 by the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 are left in the country, according to UNHCR and other organisations.
The rest have either been killed or have fled to neighbouring countries. With all borders now closed to them, Palestinians who are forced to stay in Iraq face an almost certain death as they are perceived by many Iraqis to have been favoured by the government of former president Saddam Hussein.
Of those who have remained behind, many have been kidnapped, tortured or killed. They are routinely threatened and their families live in fear, expecting to be the next victims of militias and armed groups.
In the run-up to the UN’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November, IRIN spoke to Sahar Ahmed, 41, a Palestinian mother-of-four who was born in Iraq and now finds herself trapped in the country.
Her son was kidnapped and tortured after being accused of being a follower of Saddam Hussein and was given an ultimatum to leave the country within a week. With no money, the family moved to another area of the capital but even there they were not safe.
They were followed and threatened and now live with two other Palestinian families in an empty school near the Adhamyia area of Baghdad.
“We didn’t have a choice. If we had money, we would have left Iraq but because we are Palestinians no one employs us now,” Sahar said.
“Because we did not follow their orders, they [the armed group] took my 17-year-old daughter and raped her a month ago. She was also beaten all over her body and was told that that was the payment for all Palestinians who chose to stay in their country,” she added.
Sahar said that the house in which she was living was filled with bullet holes in its walls and messages were pasted on its doors warning them that staying in Iraq meant certain death.
“I sought help from NGOs and even tried to cross the Syrian border but we were forced back to the capital. Our old neighbours turned their backs on us as soon as they saw that people were targeting us. Now we are alone trying to survive,” she said.
Sahar said her husband was killed by the US army in 2003 when he went through a closed road and soldiers shot him dead.
“Now I ask the world. With a raped daughter, a tortured son, a killed husband and without a house and food, maybe someone will look after us and try to help, or do they still need more proof that we are suffering and need to leave this country as soon as possible?” Sahar asked.