On Iraqi-Jordanian border, hundreds of Iraqis seek refuge from Baghdad violence

Submitted by:1st Marine Division

Story Identification #:2006429125537

Story by Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

JORDANIAN BORDER, Iraq (April 29, 2006) --

Near the Iraqi-Jordanian border, key leaders from the Iraqi Government and the United Nations met to figure out the fate of a growing number of Iraqis of Palestinian heritage who are trying to leave Iraq due to recent violence in Baghdad.

The meeting between the two organizations came after more than 200 Iraqi men, women and children took up residence along the border here weeks ago, after being denied passage into Jordan by Jordanian border officials.

The Iraqis left Baghdad to escape “violence and persecution” by insurgents, who targeted hundreds of Iraqi families there because of their Palestinian heritage, according to one Iraqi man who fled Baghdad several weeks ago and now lives with his wife and three children in this refugee camp.

“The terrorists came in, threatened us, told us to get out or ‘bang-bang-bang,’” said the refugee as he used his hands to gesture shooting a handgun.

“[My wife and I] left because it is safer for them (here),” he said, pointing to his three children.

Iraqi Government officials and U.N. representatives from Jordan held the meeting to discuss future needs and any concerns about the Iraqi refugees’ current situation, and to assess the refugees’ living conditions.

While the Jordanian Government will not allow the Iraqis to cross the border into Jordan, the refugees refuse to return to Baghdad because of the violence, they said.

Now, they live in tents and are provided food, water, medical supplies and clothing from the Iraqi Red Crescent – an organization similar to the American Red Cross.

Officials from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, based in Amman, Jordan, attended the meeting to assess the situation, but offered no immediate solutions to the problem.

“We come here with no solutions. We came here to assess the needs of the group, assess the difficulties faced by [the Iraqi border authorities], help find options for the future and establish good communication between (United Nations) and border authorities,” said Charles Lynch, a U.N. representative who attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Red Crescent, an Iraqi organization similar to the American Red Cross has provided the refugees with food, supplies, tents and some medical care. But that support is due to run out in 45 days, at which time the Iraqi Border Authority will provide an additional 30 days of support to the refugees.

Beyond that, the Iraqis’ fate is uncertain.

Still, the refugees say they are happier living here in less-than-ideal conditions than having to return to their homes in Baghdad.

“The terrorism and violence was too much - that is why I left [Baghdad]. I liked my home but now all I want is to live in peace and get on with my life,” said a 29-year-old refugee.

“No solutions were hammered out in this meeting - that was expected but still disappointing,” said Vernon Hills, Ill., native Gunnery Sgt. Brian K. Yount, the team leader of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion’s Civil Affairs detachment.

The southern California-based Marine battalion provided security for those in the meeting, and will assist the Iraqi Government by ensuring the Iraqi border patrols are “beefed up,” adding additional security for the refugees, according to Maj. Matt Good, the battalion’s operations officer and 33-year-old Andrews, Texas, native.

While the Marines have beefed up security measures, it has been the Iraqi Government; which has taken the lead in ensuring the refugees have provisions and security at the camp.

“Iraq’s got the lead,” said Good. “When we first got out there, (the Iraqi colonel) asked us what we wanted him to do, but we told him – ‘This is your show.’”

“We are here to keep everyone talking and help facilitate the next step,” added Yount. “Until [a solution is found], all we can do is to continually give humanitarian assistance and support.”

While the refugees’ fate is undecided, many have not given up hope that they will be allowed to eventually cross into Jordan, where some have family.

“My wife is a Jordanian citizen and even she wasn’t let in,” said Taha, another refugee. “Her parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters all live there.”

After refusing the Iraqis passage into Jordan, the Jordanian Government closed the port of entry into Iraq and reinforced their guard with extra troops, trucks, and tanks to prevent any crossing from happening, according to Col. Mohammad Abas, the acting director of the Iraqi Border Authority here.

“The refugees were treated poorly and insulted by the Jordanian authorities so we gave them a place to stay and some assistance,” said Abas. “It is our duty to do so.”

While many of the refugees left Baghdad to escape violence and persecution, many have their own stories to tell of intimidation by local criminals.

Through an interpreter, one man recounted his decision to move his family out of Baghdad - “Some men told us to leave or there would be hell to pay, we shrugged it off until a man who lived not far from us was killed- it was time for us to go.”

The refugees abandoned their homes in Baghdad by their own admission, but many knew their chances of entering Jordan without proper documentation was slim, according to Yount.

Instead, many of the refugees hoped to get the attention of international agencies, like the U.N., he said.

Attention was exactly what they got – the border was closed, prohibiting anyone and everything from crossing the border, to include delivery trucks and even people seeking medical help, which Abas described as an “international incident” - which is why the U.N. got involved, he said.

“Luckily, no medical emergencies occurred, because the next closest medical facility is [110 miles away] in Rutbah,” he said.

The border was opened back up, but not to the inhabitants of the refugee camp. Also, the continuous attention at the border due to the refugees’ presence requires solutions to a few problems which are hoped to be solved during the next meeting.

“This isn’t the right place for the group - it is too crowded and there are a lot of trucks coming through, this is not a suitable place especially with all of the children,” said Abas.

The Iraqi Border Authority wants to establish a new camp two kilometers away from the port of entry, so the refugees can be better protected, he said.

“I am asking for an urgent solution. Our summer season is coming up and it is very harsh,” said Abas.

The current camp, though, “isn’t that bad,” according to Taha.

“[My family and I] could use a better tent,” as he pointed to water that had leaked inside the tent during recent rainstorms. “But overall, not bad. We have a good supply of food and our water tanks are filled every day or so.”

At least some of the refugees are opposed to the idea of relocating, though. Through an interpreter, one refugee complained that if they move to the proposed location, they will fall off the Iraqi Government’s radar, and eventually be left to their own devices to survive.

For better or for worse, if a new camp is built, it would be an incentive for more Palestinians to flee Baghdad because they would have somewhere to run away from the violence, according to Abas.

“We expect about 450 people to eventually get here,” said Abas. “Because of the threat of violence and bloodshed, they are leaving. It’s not safe [in Baghdad].”


Staff Sgt.J.M. Goodwinp

Public Affairs Chief

Regimental Combat Team 7

1st Marine Division

Al Asad, Iraq 3613-843

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