I'm still traveling away from the Middle East but I just got this update from the Christain Peacemaker Team in Iraq. It's an interesting read. I heard from an Iraqi friend that the border between Jordan and Iraq was closed due to a group of Palestinian refugees ... then I got a message from Beth after she had left the group and traveled back to Amman. Even in the midst of the death of Tom Fox and the release of their three delegation members, CPT remains a positive force.
I also felt the comment about "proper channels" very interesting. As regard to refugees fleeing a country that is persecuting them, they would probably all be dead if they had waited for "proper channels."
Palestinian Encampment at the Jordanian Border
By Peggy Gish, 22 March, 2006
"You will not be allowed to leave Iraq unless the Iraqi Ministry of Interior authorizes it and the Jordanian government agrees for you to enter Jordan," an Iraqi border official told the eighty-eight Palestinian Iraqis who had just arrived at the Iraqi side of the border with Jordan. Early morning Saturday, 19 March, they left
Baghdad and traveled the dangerous road to the western border, because of continued violence against the Palestinian community there. Now, at 9:00pm the border was closed. The sixteen Palestinian families, including 42 children, would have to spend the cold desert night in their two buses.
CPTers Beth Pyles and Peggy Gish, who had accompanied the group of Palestinians, talked with the official, arranged for a meeting with his supervisor the following morning, and made calls to United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) representatives in Baghdad and Jordan. Then they settled into their seats on the bus to sleep.
The next morning CPTers in Baghdad called a human rights officer at the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, to discuss the Palestinians' request to leave. During a break in the conversation for translation, the line was cut. Meanwhile at the border, after waiting an hour and half to meet with the border official, a man came and told Pyles and Gish that the Palestinians' request to leave Iraq would be granted.
If they left, however, they would not be allowed to return to Iraq. Somehow, by someone, the "door" had been opened!
Later when the buses left the Iraqi border gates and drove into the "no man's land" between borders, they were stopped by Jordanian police and officials who demanded that the refugees return to Iraq. They refused. Pyles and Gish told the Jordanian officials about the extreme threat that prompted the Palestinian group's flight from
Iraq and explained that the refugees were not allowed to re-enter Iraq.
After forcing the buses to turn around and return to a place closer to the Iraqi border gates, a Jordanian policeman insulted one of the bus drivers. The driver jumped out yelling and ready to fight. Soon there was a line of Jordanian soldiers and police on the Jordanian side of the road with their guns ready, and a line of Iraqi soldiers and police with their guns ready to respond. In between, stood about
twenty Palestinians who had left the bus. Pyles and Gish listened to the bus driver, asked the Jordanian police chief to tell his men that insulting the driver was unacceptable behavior, and called for both sides to stay calm.
On the barren desert ground just outside the Iraqi border gates, each Palestinian family made a pile of their belongings. Several erected the one tent that the group brought along. Palestinian leaders completed a list of each person in the group that Gish and Pyles would take to a UNHCR representative in eastern Jordan. Gish and Pyles found it hard to say "good-bye" to the families and head toward Amman while the worried but determined Palestinian women, men and children braced themselves for the approaching sand storm.
In the following days, UNHCR in Jordan sent a representative to do an assessment of the needs of the group on the border in order to prepare a plan of action. The Iraqi Red Crescent responded by bringing the group four more tents and food and water. In response to a press release from the Iraq team, international media published the story of the plight of Palestinians in Iraq.
On Wednesday, March 22, a representative of UNHCR in Baghdad confirmed the report that Palestinians on the border were forced to move from their no man's land location to two buildings just inside the Iraqi border in order to ease the heightened tensions between Iraq and Jordan. An Iraqi Colonel told them they could stay there for up to a week, and that they will be allowed to exit Iraq again
if the Jordan will let them in. At this point, however, entry into Jordan seems unlikely.
When the Palestinian group initially arrived on the border, Jordanian officials expressed anger toward them and toward CPT for accompanying them, saying they must go through the "proper channels." As this trip progressed, however, it became clear to CPTers that there are no real or good options through proper channels for these Palestinians to find safe refuge and that it is essential that there be basic changes in how nations and international organizations respond to groups of people fleeing extreme threat. The Iraq team's main motivation for this accompaniment was violence prevention. This group of Palestinians left primarily to escape death and persecution. Unfortunately it may take such confrontive actions to change the status quo and make a clear statement that positive options must be found.