Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk camp south of Damascus are desperate for medical supplies and nutritional provisions.
The head of the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees visited the besieged Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, a suburb just south of the Syrian capital, on Sunday, alerting diplomats and aid workers to the deteriorating situation for people remaining in the area.
“I am deeply disturbed and shaken by what I observed today,” Filippo Grandi, Commissioner General of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said in a press statement. “The Palestine refugees with whom I spoke were traumatized by what they have lived through, and many were in evident need of immediate support, particularly food and medical treatment.”
UNRWA resumed humanitarian aid distribution on Sunday in the urban camp, which has been sealed off since July 2013, “resulting in acute and widespread deprivation, including severe malnutrition, while civilian residents are constantly exposed to the threat of death, injuries and trauma of the armed conflict,” UNRWA stated.
Yarmouk was established to accommodate Palestinian refugees already in the suburbs of Damascus in the late 1950s following the establishment of Israel.
Prior to the armed conflict in Syria in March 2011, Yarmouk was home to over 160,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Syria. Since December 2012, fighting has caused at least 140,000 Palestinian refugees to flee their homes in Yarmouk, as armed opposition groups established a presence in the area, with government forces controlling the periphery. Only about 18,000 refugees remain at Yarmouk.
“The devastation is unbelievable,” Grandi said in neighboring Beirut on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. “There is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now. It’s like the appearance of ghosts. These are people that have not been out of there, that have been trapped in there not only without food, medicines, clean water — all the basics, but also probably completely subjected to fear because there was fierce fighting.”
The U.N. said it has distributed more than 6,000 food parcels in Yarmouk since the middle of January, a level it said doesn’t nearly meet the needs of 18,000 residents after months of hunger and deprivation.
UNRWA welcomed the support of Syrian authorities to resume distribution today after being suspended for several days, its statement said. During his three-day visit to Syria, Grandi was encouraged by the assurances of authorities that access will be maintained and expanded, and ultimately lead to the safe return of Palestine refugees to their homes.
“We hope that the positive developments in Yarmouk can give momentum to peaceful dialogue between all parties so that there can be humanitarian access for all civilians in Syria who have suffered enough,” Grandi said.
In a rare show of unity among world powers, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Saturday ordering the warring parties in Syria to stop blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid. It, however, lacked the immediate prospect of punishment for those in violation of the resolution.