Canadian Government should Resettle Palestinian Refugees from Iraq

Canadian Council for Refugees
Media Release

For immediate release
25 March 2009


The Canadian Council for Refugees today called publicly on the federal government to resettle some of the Palestinian refugees forced out of Iraq but denied asylum anywhere else.  The refugees are stranded in dangerous camps on the Syria-Iraq border, waiting for a country to accept them for resettlement.

“We are deeply disappointed at the Canadian government’s failure to offer protection and a home to any of these refugees,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, CCR President.  “The Palestinians are among the most vulnerable of those forced out of Iraq – yet the Canadian government is excluding Palestinians from consideration for any of the resettlement spaces allocated for the displaced from Iraq.  This looks like discrimination – these refugees are being denied resettlement to Canada solely because they are Palestinian.”

The Palestinian refugees fled killings, kidnappings, torture and death threats in Iraq, but unlike Iraqi refugees have not been allowed into neighbouring countries to seek asylum.  Last September, the UN issued a special flash appeal urging countries to offer resettlement to these stranded refugees. 

The CCR was represented by Gloria Nafziger on an international NGO delegation last November to visit the Palestinian refugees.

“During my visit to the Al Tanf and Al Hol camps I spoke to men, women and children who live in some of the harshest conditions,” said Gloria Nafziger, CCR Executive Committee member. “The children pleaded to be freed from the isolated and barren desert camps. They performed a play that showed them travelling to Mars to find compassion and a safe place to live – things  they are not finding on earth.”

Last November, the CCR wrote urging Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney to respond favourably to the UN appeal.  No reply has yet been received.  In practice, the Canadian government is not resettling any of the Palestinian refugees through the government assistance program, although Canadian groups may respond through the private sponsorship program.

“There is great willingness among groups in Canada, including the churches, to assist displaced Palestinians refugees. A similar level of commitment from our government must complement this,” said Alfredo Barahona, Refugee Program Coordinator for the church-based social justice group KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. “KAIROS therefore urges our government to respond immediately to the UN appeal.”

“The Palestinian refugees from Iraq have suffered threats, torture and killings and live in appalling conditions in refugee camps near the Syrian border,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada. “Amnesty International calls on the Canadian government to take a leadership role and establish a generous resettlement program for Palestinian Iraqi refugees.”

“The Palestinians forced out of Iraq are in a situation even worse than other refugees from Iraq because they are stateless,” said Jehad Aliweiwi, Executive Director of Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office.  “Canada can offer them much-needed security and a welcoming home.”

For more information, see backgrounder,

Colleen French, Canadian Council for Refugees, 514-277-7223 ext. 1,
Adiat Junaid, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, (416) 463
5312, ext. 223,,



March 2009

Palestinian refugees forced out of Iraq
At the time of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, there were approximately 34,000 Palestinians in Baghdad, some of them refugees – or descended from refugees – displaced in 1948.  In the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Palestinians became targets for violence.  Palestinians in Iraq have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, publicly slandered, kidnapped, tortured, attacked and killed.

To escape persecution, many Palestinians fled.  Unlike Iraqi citizens, however, Palestinians were mostly denied entry to Syria and Jordan, because they are stateless persons, with no immediate prospect of a durable solution.  Instead they are trapped on the Syria-Iraq border, in the camps of Al Hol, Al Tanf and Al Waleed.

Living conditions in the camps are extremely difficult and unsafe.  There is little security or access to medical services.  The camps are in the desert where there are extreme temperatures and regular sandstorms.

Resettlement to a third country offers the only viable solution for these refugees.

For more information, see:

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appeal
Faced with insufficient offers of resettlement and deteriorating conditions in the camps, the UNHCR issued an urgent appeal last fall for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees.  A few countries have begun to resettle small numbers of the Palestinians.

For more information, see:

Canadian response

The Canadian Council for Refugees wrote to Citizenship and Immigration Canada in October 2008 and, following the federal elections, to the new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in November 2008, urging that Canada resettle Palestinian refugees as requested in the UNHCR appeal.  Amnesty International, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, the Mennonite Central Committee, PWRDF (Anglican Church of Canada) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have also sent similar requests.
The Canadian government is not accepting any of these Palestinian refugees for resettlement as Government-Assisted Refugees.

Meanwhile, groups in Canada are stepping forward to respond to the Palestinian refugees through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, which allows civil society to offer resettlement to refugees in addition to those refugees assisted by the Government of Canada.  However, these groups are finding that many of the Palestinians are in large linked families and/or have special needs.  In such circumstances, the normal practice would be for the Government of Canada to share the costs by resettling some of the refugees as Government-Assisted Refugees and/or supporting the refugees with special needs through Joint Assistance Sponsorship.  In the case only of these Palestinian refugees, neither of these forms of government support is available.

For more information, see:

Sponsoring refugees: Joint Assistance Sponsorship,