In December 2012, fierce clashes erupted in Yarmouk, an area of Damascus home to approximately 160,000 Palestine refugees. The intensity of these clashes and the widespread use of heavy weapons caused numerous civilian casualties, severe damage to property and the displacement of 140,000 Palestine refugees and thousands of Syrians. In July 2013, a state of siege emerged in Yarmouk, trapping the remaining 18,000 civilians inside and preventing the entry of commercial and humanitarian goods. Severe hunger and deprivation emerged over the following six months, while intensive armed clashes continued.
UNRWA regained access in January 2014, providing a limited quantity of food, hygiene items and, eventually, basic medical services at a distribution area inside Yarmouk. Operations were highly intermittent, with the distribution area regularly struck by gunfire and explosive munitions. As a result, UNRWA met less than 20 per cent of the food needs of the remaining civilian population in Yarmouk in 2014.
In April 2015, extremist groups captured over 60 per cent of Yarmouk, containing over 90 per cent of the remaining civilian population, and displacing thousands of Palestine refugees and other civilians to the neighbouring areas of Yalda, Babila, Beit Saham and Tadhamon. Clashes and bombardment of Yarmouk intensified and UNRWA access was severed. UNRWA responded by establishing humanitarian operations in the neighbouring areas of Yarmouk, serving thousands of displaced civilians with food, water, medical services and hygiene items, while responding to a typhoid outbreak that emerged in July 2015. At present, UNRWA is restricted to providing only medical services in these areas.
Today, thousands of civilians remain trapped inside Yarmouk in a state of the most severe vulnerability. Intensive armed engagements continue, while civilians remaining in the area are forced to live without access to adequate food, safe water, electricity or essential services. Damage to residences and infrastructure is severe, with many families forced to live without proper shelter. UNRWA remains deeply concerned that without renewed, safe and unhindered access to Yarmouk, the most basic humanitarian needs of civilians inside Yarmouk will continue to increase rapidly.