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Over 1,000 people in "no man's land"

More than 1,000 people fleeing from Iraq and seeking humanitarian assistance in Jordan are currently stuck in the "no man's land" area separating the two countries at the Al Karama border crossing. Over 100 people had arrived in the last one hour, and 600 in the last 24 hours, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman, Peter Kessler, told reporters in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Sunday afternoon. They were a mixture of Palestinians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Syrians and over 600 Iranian Kurds, he said. "We're not clear why they [the Jordanian authorities] are not letting these people in," said Kessler. "It is unclear why these people are being held up". He said the Jordanian government had been informed at the highest levels in several ministries and the refugees were "desperate and in need of humanitarian aid". UNHCR had requested the government to allow them to cross the border to a camp in Ruweished, about 60 km from the Al Karama crossing. "We hope they [the government] take notice of the situation as soon as possible," he continued, adding that UNHCR was "befuddled" about the reasons for not letting the refugees onto Jordanian territory. All neighbouring countries in the region have been requested by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, to keep their borders open to people fleeing war and chaos in Iraq. On Tuesday last week the Jordanian government had indicated that the refugees, numbering over 200 at the time, would be allowed to enter but since then no progress has been made. Since the start of the Iraqi war, only 6 Iraqis had been allowed to enter Jordan, said Kessler. Omar Mufti, the secretary for the Minister of the Interior, Kaftan Al Majali, told IRIN "It has come from a very high authority in the government that we in the interior ministry are not to comment, or talk, or even give any piece of information about this subject. Even the minister himself is not authorised to comment on this". Meanwhile, the situation in the makeshift camp in "no man's land" was changing hour by hour, said Karsten Voelz, a project coordinator with CARE International, which is providing assistance to them. New arrivals in "no man's land" said they had been told that non-Iraqis were no longer welcome in Iraq, said Voelz. In addition, there were reports that the Al Tash refugee camp - located 120 km west of Baghdad - which housed over 12,000 Iranian Kurds, had been attacked. "People say they were threatened by armed groups and told they had to leave," he said. Kessler confirmed that over 600 of these long-term Iranian refugees had already arrived in no man's land by Sunday evening. He said it remained unclear why they had fled - some had said they were threatened, while others said they had run out of food and aid and had no choice but to try to flee to Jordan. He added that those who had arrived in recent days had reported "an organised campaign" by armed Iraqi groups targeting Palestinians living in Baghdad's Bijii and Balediyat neighbourhoods, as well as the Al Huriyah camp in the outskirts of the city, which reportedly sheltered people of various nationalities. "They said that Palestinian families were being forced from their homes by the armed Iraqis who told them if they refused to leave, the men would be killed and the women raped," he said. Isabel Simpson, a project coordinator with Medecins Sans Frontieres, described the situation on the border as "chaotic". "It's not good. The services were prepared in Ruweished and where they are now is 50-80 km from Ruweished, or one hour's drive away," she said. "Because of the conditions, the weather, the dust and sand, we're seeing a lot of minor respiratory problems, sore eyes, dehydration, and some kids with diarrhoea," she said. While the health situation wasn't too bad, she said, she was concerned that there might be an outbreak of measles among the over 400 children there. In addition, there were a number of pregnant women, and elderly people with chronic hypertension and diabetes, Simpson said. Voelz confirmed that 28 latrines had been constructed by Sunday afternoon, but that more were being built in conjunction with Oxfam. Tents had been erected for everyone to sleep in, he added. "We expect the Jordanian government to give humanitarian considerations a priority when making political decisions about the future of these people," he commented.
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