It has been one year since Yarmouk, the vast suburb of Damascus that was home to the largest Palestine refugee community in Syria, was engulfed by fighting. The situation has progressively deteriorated: 20,000 remaining Palestinians have been trapped inside Yarmouk, and although very alarming reports of hardship and hunger have continued to multiply, since September 2013 we have been unable to enter the area to deliver desperately needed relief supplies.
The armed conflict continues in Yarmouk and the death toll among Palestinians continues to rise. UNRWA remains constantly committed to assist, but 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.
It is my responsibility to inform the international community that humanitarian conditions in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are worsening dramatically and that we are currently unable to help those trapped inside. If this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children.
Initiatives aimed at ending the on-going siege appear to have stalled. I am compelled to remind the parties involved in the conflict that under international law they have an obligation to protect civilians from the effects of armed conflict. It is essential that civilians are able to sustain themselves and their families. All parties to the conflict must ensure that food, medical supplies and other humanitarian assistance be allowed into the area.
UNRWA is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees. This includes extending relief to civilians in distress in Palestinian refugee camps across Syria. On the strength of this international mandate, I urgently ask all parties to immediately heed their legal obligations and facilitate the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to Yarmouk and other Palestinian refugee camps where fighting impedes the delivery of such assistance.
I especially count on the Government of Syria to respond positively to my appeal and to do everything in its power to facilitate our efforts. This is of crucial importance if this intolerable situation is to end.
Prior to the armed conflict in Syria, Yarmouk, a suburb just south of Damascus city, was home to over 160,000 Palestine refugees. In December 2012 and in the months since, armed conflict 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. Between December 2012 and June 2013, civilians could still access UNRWA assistance at the Zahera entrance to Yarmouk. However, from mid-July 2013, Palestine refugees have been trapped in the area, with little or no access or freedom of movement.
Despite extreme challenges, UNRWA continues to support some 420,000 Palestine refugees in Syria with health care, primary education, cash transfers, food assistance, psycho-social support, access to micro-finance and other humanitarian services.