“There is profound civilian suffering in Yarmouk with widespread incidence of malnutrition and the absence of medical care, including for those who have severe conflict-related injuries,” Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees says.
Since July, some 20,000 Palestinian and Syrian residents remaining in Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus, have been under a tight siege by the Syrian army, with persistent reports of people dying of starvation.
Gunness says that women are dying in childbirth and children are suffering from malnutrition-related diseases, including anemia, rickets, and kwashiorkor.
In his full statement below, sent to The Electronic Intifada, Gunness describes the desperate and horrifying situation in the camp.
Before the Syrian civil war began, Yarmouk had 160,000 residents.
UNRWA is the only UN agency with personnel on the ground within Yarmouk and thus the comments of Gunness must carry particular weight.
Yet despite calls from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN and others, Syria continues to refuse humanitarian access to Yarmouk, or to other areas where large numbers of civilians are under siege including Eastern Ghouta, the old city of Homs and Moadamiyah.
“The continued presence of armed groups that entered the area at the end of 2012 and its closure by government forces have thwarted all our humanitarian efforts,” Gunness told Ma’an News Agency last month.
His latest statement makes clear that “from a humanitarian perspective, Yarmouk remains closed to humanitarian access.”
“I emphasize that the imperative remains that Syrian authorities and other parties must allow and facilitate safe and open humanitarian access into Yarmouk to enable us to assist civilians trapped there.”
Last week, a group of sick refugees who were to leave Yarmouk camp for treatment were prevented from doing so due to sniper fire from members of the armed group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Ma’an News Agency reported.
So far all efforts by the Palestine Liberation Organization to broker an end to the siege have failed.
“Profound civilian suffering”
Statement from UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness:
There is profound civilian suffering in Yarmouk with widespread incidence of malnutrition and the absence of medical care, including for those who have severe conflict-related injuries, and including for women in childbirth, with fatal consequences for some women. Residents, including infants and children, are subsisting for long periods on diets of stale vegetables, herbs, powdered tomato paste, animal feed and cooking spices dissolved in water. Children are suffering from diseases linked to severe malnutrition, including anemia, rickets, and kwashiorkor.
There has been an appalling absence of electricity and heating for horrendously long periods, now close to one year, with all this implies for poor health. Residents are having to rely on going out on terraces and burning furniture and branches to warm themselves in the open because wood fires cannot be resorted to indoors. There is a very infrequent supply of tap water – reportedly available for four hours only at intervals of three days. The unending armed conflict brings death and inflicts serious injuries on Yarmouk residents in addition to the extreme deprivation of living a trapped existence.
It is public knowledge that some residents have been allowed to leave Yarmouk, although it remains unclear how many have left and whether the conditions under which they left were consistent with the international standards for the protection of civilians. From a humanitarian perspective, Yarmouk remains closed to humanitarian access and remains a place where extreme human suffering in primitively harsh conditions is the norm for Palestinian and Syrian civilians living there. I emphasize that the imperative remains that Syrian authorities and other parties must allow and facilitate safe and open humanitarian access into Yarmouk to enable us to assist civilians trapped there.