Syria: UN agency awaits clearance to resume aid delivery to Palestinian camp

UNRWA distributing humanitarian aid at Yarmouk camp, Damascus, Syria, on 7 February 2014. Photo: UNRWA

20 February 2014 – The United Nations agency charged with ensuring the well-being of Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East is awaiting clearance to again resume distributing aid in a camp near Damascus, where just yesterday it had been able to reach civilians in desperate need.

“There was no distribution of food or humanitarian assistance today in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which is regrettable given the desperate humanitarian plight of the civilian population there, said Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

However, a few critically sick people were evacuated in arrangements between the authorities and concerned parties. UNRWA is awaiting clearance to resume distribution tomorrow 21 February.

Mr. Gunness said the parties to the agreement have had lengthy discussions on ensuring implementation of their agreement so as to enable sustained food distribution, and on allowing UNRWA to resume food distribution and other humanitarian activities from UNRWA facilities inside Yarmouk.

“The discussions are yet to come to any firm conclusion,” he said, adding: “UNRWA stands ready to resume humanitarian work inside Yarmouk immediately clearance is given.”

Yesterday, UNRWA was able to deliver food for around 280 families – the first such shipment since fighting forced the agency to suspend activities in the camp for 11 days.

The UN agency had distributed over 6,500 food parcels of food and other supplies to civilians in the camp since mid-January. Each parcel lasts an average family only about 10 days, so provisions had all run out by the time a new shipment was allowed in.

Prior to the armed conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, Yarmouk – a suburb just south of Damascus – was home to over 160,000 Palestine refugees. Since December 2012, fighting has caused at least 140,000 Palestine refugees to flee their homes in Yarmouk, as armed opposition groups established a presence in the area, with Government forces controlling the periphery.

Starvation and illnesses exacerbated by hunger or lack of medical aid have contributed to some 100 people dying in the camp in recent months, according to UN figures.

During food delivery, UNRWA said a crowd of “desperate civilians surged towards the distribution,” disrupted the operation for over three hours.

“The crowd control issues that arose today reflect the massive pressure of hunger, misery and desperation that continue to afflict civilians in Yarmouk,” Mr. Gunness said.

In a statement on behalf of UNRWA, he called on all concerned parties to facilitate the establishment of “a more dignified and effective system” to distribute aid in Yarmouk.

He said that during yesterday’s distribution, UN staff heard “passionate and vocal demands” for “substantial, sustained humanitarian access for Yarmouk, for the restoration of UNRWA services, and for Yarmouk to be rapidly opened for normal civilian life.”


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