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Citizens of nowhere from Iraq to Chicago

Tents collapsing at the Al-Waleed Refugee Camp
Tents collapsing at the Al-Waleed Refugee Camp
Faten Dabis

Since the dispossession of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) continues. Iraq can now be added to the list of countries that Palestinians are fleeing because of religious and ethnic persecution. Prior to the 2003 U.S. led invasion, approximately 34,000 Palestinians lived in Iraq. Although not allowed citizenship or the right to own assets such as homes or cars, many were born and raised in Iraq and lived comfortably with access to jobs, healthcare and education.

After 2003, however, Palestinians have faced evictions, threats, harassment, kidnapping, torture and murder. Perceived as having been favored under Saddam Hussein’s regime, some in Iraq are now punishing Palestinians for the misdeeds of the former dictator. As such, countless lives, both Palestinian and Iraqi, have been lost to the senseless violence that has plagued Iraq since George W. Bush decided to invade the country in search of weapons of mass distraction.

Facing threats and persecution from within and having no protection from the new U.S. backed government, scores of Palestinians have decided to flee their homes in Baghdad. Many left with the hope of being able to relocate to neighboring Syria or Jordan. However, most were denied entry into either country. Abandoned by their Arab neighbors, terrified of going home to Baghdad and forbidden their right to return to their ancestral homeland, many of these refugees ended up living in the camps for three plus years.

Palestinians who fled the violence in Iraq generally ended up in one of several refugee camps. Two such camps were Al Tanaf and Al Waleed. Located on the border of Iraq, Syria and the middle of nowhere, the living conditions in the camps were described as dangerous and squalid. The nearest hospital was over 100 kilometers away and impossible to reach since Palestinians were not allowed to own cars. The paper thin tents would often collapse under the weight of snow or rain. If a fire erupted, entire rows of tents would go up in flames and burn to the ground within minutes often killing children, the elderly or anyone trapped in their path. There was no fire department to call and no water with which to fight the fires.

Lack of a sewage system meant that excrement would flow freely through the camps causing a surge in diseases and infections to the children who had nowhere to play except between the tents. People lived without heat in the winter and without relief from the 100 plus degree temperatures in the summer. Other dangers included scorpions, snakes, sandstorms, a scarce water supply and malnutrition.

Recently, various aid agencies began evacuating the refugee camps. Some families were relocated to yet another refugee camp. The more fortunate families have been relocated to various countries around the world including Norway, Sweden, Canada, Romania and the U.S. On February 1st, the UN closed Al Tanaf. Some stories ended with hope while others became refugees again. Several families were relocated right here to Chicago. Having little control over their own fate or that of their children, these families have been brought here with nothing to speak of. They are in need of everything from household products to food, fare cards and more than anything, jobs. Anyone wishing to donate or help can do so on or by contacting the author.



  • Helen 5 years ago

    Very informative. We need more exposure of the terrors occuring around the world. Thank you for the information and how we can help these people that have been relocated right here to our city!

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