On visit to besieged camp, UN official urges unhindered access for all civilians in Syria

Desperate crowd awaits relief aid at Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. Photo: UNRWA

24 February 2014 – A senior United Nations official said today he was shocked by what he saw during a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, and underscored the need for full and unhindered access to all conflict-affected communities in the country.

“I am deeply disturbed and shaken by what I observed today,” said Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

“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,” said Mr. Grandi, who entered the Yarmouk camp during the resumption of UNRWA’s humanitarian aid distribution this morning.

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.

Yarmouk camp has been sealed 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.

After partial humanitarian access was granted on 18 January and 20 February, UNRWA had successfully distributed 7,000 food parcels, 10,000 polio vaccines and a range of other medical supplements to civilians inside the camp.

UNRWA welcomed the support of Syrian authorities to resume distribution today after being suspended for several days. During his three-day visit to Syria, Mr. Grandi was encouraged by assurances given by the 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,” he said.


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