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.

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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.

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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.

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Sponsoring refugees: Joint Assistance Sponsorship,