Syria Crisis Response Update (issue no 73)

07 April 2014
Iconic UNRWA images of a humanitarian distribution, Yarmouk Camp, Damascus, 2014, displayed on a   billboard in New York's Times Square, 20 March 2014.

Iconic UNRWA images of a humanitarian distribution, Yarmouk Camp, Damascus, 2014,
displayed on a   billboard in New York's Times Square, 20 March 2014.

Issue 73 (18 – 31 March 2014)

Food distributions

UNRWA has distributed 10,708 food parcels in Yarmouk since 18 January, facilitated by authorities on the ground. In this period, UNRWA distributed 3,000 food parcels in the only eight days it was granted access. Distributions were not able to be made on the other days due to ongoing hostilities and/or lack of access. Syrian authorities informed UNRWA on 30 March that access for the Agency would be suspended until Friday 4 April.

UNRWA renews its demand for safe, substantial and uninterrupted access to Yarmouk and its civilians. It is essential that large numbers of food parcels are distributed in Yarmouk every day in order to meet the minimum food requirements of the civilian population. During March, the average daily distribution rate was only 97 food parcels per day, with frequent armed engagements impeding regular access.

UNRWA is deeply concerned that any interruption of food distribution in Yarmouk, including the present one, will prolong the suffering of the approximately 18,000 civilians trapped there. UNRWA possesses the resources, staff and humanitarian expertise to restore food security and humanitarian services to civilians in Yarmouk. The Agency urges all concerned parties to immediately allow and facilitate the resumption of UNRWA food distributions to civilians inside Yarmouk.

Picture: Yarmouk, Damascus, 2014. Rami Al-Sayyed for UNRWA
Picture: Yarmouk, Damascus, 2014. Rami Al-Sayyed for UNRWA

Thunderclap campaign

On Thursday 20 March, the iconic image of a huge crowd waiting for UNRWA food parcels in Yarmouk was screened on a massive billboard in New York's Times Square. This sent a powerful message to the world diplomatic community at United Nations Headquarters that the world has had enough of Syria's pitiless conflict. The photo, which went viral on the internet within minutes of being released, has come to symbolize the revulsion of the world with what is taking place in Syria. The showing in Times Square follows a successful, celebrity-backed social-media campaign by UNRWA to secure support from 23 million people worldwide, the pre-war population of Syria. As the image went up, a crowd below held up pita bread as a symbolic gesture of support for the starving masses in Syria.

In order to illustrate further the plight of civilians in Yarmouk and all besieged areas of Syria, please see the exhibition on the UNRWA website, ‘Cry From The Heart: The Children of Yarmouk’. 

Also see the UNRWA Syria website: /syria-crisis#zoom=5&lat=34.05266&lon=33.57422&layers=0T0B00



A reported but unconfirmed 21 Palestine Refugees (PR) died in the last 2 weeks as a result of the conflict. UNRWA estimates over 50 per cent of registered PR are displaced in Syria or in neighbouring countries.

Approximately 270,000 PR are displaced in Syria: over 200,000 in Damascus, around 6,600 in Aleppo, 4,500 in Latakia, 3,050 in Hama, 6,450 in Homs and 13,100 in Dera’a. In Jordan, 12,073 PR from Syria (PRS) have registered with UNRWA, as have 52,559 in Lebanon. Reports mention 6,000 PRS in Egypt, 1,100 in Libya, 1,000 in Gaza and numbers in Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. 


1. Situation summary

  • Despite considerable challenges, UNRWA is continuing to deliver emergency relief, health and education services to PR across Syria.
  • So far in the conflict, 12 staff members have been killed, and 25 are currently detained or reported missing, including 2 UNRWA staff from Lebanon who were detained while travelling in Syria on private business. Twenty-four have been injured. Twenty-two UNRWA vehicles have been stolen and remain unaccounted for. In this period, one UNRWA teacher was confirmed to have been detained in November 2013, and reports were received of a further two staff members detained in late 2013 and early 2014, to be confirmed. A teacher was detained on 15 March and then released. Missile impacts damaged an UNRWA shelter in Aleppo but no injuries were reported.   
  • Hostilities mostly continued at the same levels as the previous report in areas of Damascus. Hostilities continued in Darayya but decreased in Moadhamiyeh and Khan Eshieh. Sporadic clashes and shelling continued in Jobar and Douma. Intermittent clashes and shelling early in the period in Yarmouk prevented food distributions, but this subsided to relative calm, enabling resumption of food distributions on eight days, a decrease in hostilities from the previous report. An unconfirmed 15 PR reportedly died as a result of the conflict, including 15 in Yarmouk, 2 in Aleppo, 2 in Neirab and 1 each in Ein El Tal and Homs. This is an increase from the previous report.   
  • YARMOUK AND SBEINEH CAMPS All access points remained sealed. Malnutrition is widespread, which, along with lack of health care, is contributing to a rising number of deaths. 
  • All area offices and Syria Field Office in Damascus were operational all week with most staff attending.


UNRWA is sheltering 7,901 displaced PR and Syrians in 17 Agency facilities in Syria, a decrease of 88 from the previous report. Of these, 85 per cent (6,716) are PR (see table 1). A further 4,081 PR are being sheltered in 18 non-UNRWA facilities in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia, an increase of 70 from the previous report.


2. Humanitarian Response



Over 39,600 PR children are attending 42 regular UNRWA schools and 43 government schools the Ministry of Education (MoE) agreed UNRWA can use in the afternoon where Agency schools are damaged or serving as shelters. UNRWA is undertaking essential maintenance works in the schools.   

Forty-two out of 118 UNRWA schools are operational. Sixty-eight are closed due to damage or insecurity, and 8 school premises with 16 schools are operating as temporary collective shelters for PR and displaced Syrians. Eight schools are operating both as schools and temporary collective shelters. Over 1,870 UNRWA teachers are working, as are 44 psychosocial counsellors.

Self-learning materials are being prepared in coordination with MoE, and induction training was held in Damascus for newly recruited psychosocial counsellors who will work in the schools. 

Engaging Youth

Youth development, community support: 1,125 PR students are receiving psychosocial support, first-aid training, life skills and extracurricular activities in Damascus, with preparations to extend this further.  

Vocational and continuing education: 1,376 PR students are undertaking a wide range of short-term vocational-education courses in Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Homs and Latakia, including accountancy, electronics, hair and beauty, cooking, graphic design, human resources and nursing. In Damascus, Hama, Homs and Latakia, 1,939 PR are undertaking courses in English, French, computer skills, literacy and numeracy. Preparations are underway to extend these further.

Business development: 34 young PR in Damascus are undertaking activities including start-up training and follow-up, with preparations ongoing to extend this to Homs. In Damascus, Dera’a, Homs and Latakia, 444 young PR are also receiving career guidance.


Health centres and points: 9 health centres are operational in Damascus, and 1 each in Homs, Hama, Latakia, Neirab and Aleppo. In addition, 8 health points are operational in Damascus, and 1 in Aleppo.  

Medical supplies and hospitalization: Drug supplies were distributed to the north, south and Damascus areas, enough to last until the end of May 2014. Drug supplies have been distributed to health centres and points in Damascus. UNRWA is reimbursing non-contracted hospital bills, granting PR in Syria access to health facilities across the country.

Infectious diseases: Surveillance for infectious diseases is ongoing, especially for influenza-like illnesses.

An increase in the prevalence of psychosocial trauma and stress or anxiety disorders is reported.

Emergency Relief

Cash assistance: The first round 2014 distribution for 96,405 PR families started on 1 March 2014. PR families have been referred to outlets as follows: Damascus area, 37,000 families; Central area (Homs, Hama, Latakia), 5,484 families and 1,299 families with special hardship cases; North area (Aleppo) 4,447 families and 828 families with special hardship cases.

Food and NFI distributions: The third round of food distributions started on 23 February in Damascus. Food and NFIs distributed in the period included 31,900 food baskets in Damascus and Dera’a and over 6,300 blankets. Six distribution centres remain operational in Damascus.

Work is continuing with Iraqi PR in Syria, including regular counselling and visits in cooperation with UNHCR and local partners.

Water, sanitation and hygiene

Water and sanitation: UNRWA is continuing to provide regular sanitation services to all PR camps and UNRWA facilities. Garbage collection and removal is being conducted on a regular basis for all PR camps and temporary collective centres, with additional sanitation labourers employed for this. Maintenance works for sewerage systems in six camps and toilets in schools are being undertaken. Safe drinking water is being provided to temporary collective shelters, camps and gatherings.

Hygiene: Chlorine tablets and other hygiene equipment are being provided for camps and temporary collective shelters.

Maintenance: Works are being undertaken to install an electrical generator in a distribution centre. Regular maintenance of 200 UNRWA facilities and temporary collective shelters is being undertaken, as are security upgrades of facilities.


The programme financed 602 microfinance loans in January 2014 (207 in Tartous, 202 in Latakia, 74 in Sweyda and 119 in Damascus) valued at SYP 25.29 million (US$ 175,000). This brings the total number of active loans to 3,716, with an outstanding balance of SYP 98.79 million (US$ 684,000). As the programme fully staffs its branch offices in Tartous, Latakia and Sweyda, it plans to triple its current outreach to around 1,350 loans per month by April 2014, valued at around SYP 58.34 million (US$ 404,000) each month. The portfolio at risk remains very low at just 0.54 per cent, the lowest of any field. The programme is currently following up a portfolio of 6,659 bad debts, of which 96 were closed in February and SYP 1.67 million collected (US$ 12,000), leaving an outstanding balance of SYP 115.35 million (US$ 798,000).

In February, 11 staff members from Syria, including senior management, branch managers, accountants, cashiers and data-entry clerks attended a week-long training on the new OmniEnterprise microbanking software, which will replace the current loan-management information system. They are now qualified to train the other staff in Syria on how to use the system, which will go live in May. This new online system will provide real-time data and reports on lending operations and will significantly enhance the management of the programme. As the software has already been rolled out in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan, Syria will be the last field to adopt the new system. Before this can be completed, the Syria-specific loan parameters have to be set, the data transfer completed and the opening balances reconciled and entered in the system.

New Socioeconomic and Damage Assessment Report: UNRWA Microfinance Clients in Syria, was published at /resources/reports/socioeconomic-and-damage-assessment-reportunrwa-microfinance-clients-syria

Graph 1: UNRWA 2014 food and cash distributions in Syria, as of 30 March 2014Graph 1: UNRWA 2014 food and cash distributions in Syria, as of 30 March 2014

Graph 2: UNRWA distributions in Syria in 2014 by location and type, as of 30 March 2014Graph 2: UNRWA distributions in Syria in 2014 by location and type, as of 30 March 2014



52,559 PRS registered with UNRWA in Lebanon

Of PRS in Lebanon, 31 per cent are in Saida, 18 per cent in Tyre, 18 per cent in central Lebanon, 17 per cent in Bekaa and 16 per cent in northern Lebanon. Over half, 51 per cent, reside in the Palestine refugee camps, and the rest reside in private rented accommodation or informal gatherings.  

Education: 7,486 PRS children are attending UNRWA schools, of whom 85 per cent currently attend special classes for PRS and will gradually join the 15 per cent currently integrated in regular UNRWA classes for PR in Lebanon. More than 410 additional staff have been recruited, and UNRWA will conduct psychosocial support and recreational activities through the academic year and summer vacation for PRS students.

Health: UNRWA covers the cost of primary health and secondary-care services for PRS, including medical consultations and free medications, through its 27 health centres located throughout the country. UNRWA also contributes towards tertiary hospitalization for emergency and life-threatening conditions, and covers full emergency-room services at Palestine Red Crescent Society hospitals. UNRWA also provides additional support to cover medical bills for PRS suffering from critical health conditions.

Relief: The Agency provides assistance through its cash transfer programme (CTP), crediting ATM cards issued to beneficiaries since September 2013 and to newcomers on a rolling basis. The CTP will soon be targeted, but the overwhelming majority are expected to remain beneficiaries. The programme provided assistance for food and housing in October and December 2013 and February 2014 to 13,591, 14,017 and 14,347 families respectively. In February, US$ 1,495,666 was credited for food assistance and US$ 1,432,690 for housing assistance. As of 20 February, approximately 97 per cent of PRS families recorded before 31 January received an ATM card which has been credited at least once. Assistance for 2014 will be based on US$ 30 per person for food and US$ 100 per family for housing. Unaccompanied and separated minors receive assistance in cash, following an assessment by an UNRWA protection team.

UNRWA is currently working on enhancing its coordination efforts, particularly with regard to PRS newcomers, shelters in the Bekaa area and NFI distribution.

Environmental Health: As over 50 per cent of PRS reside in the Palestine refugee camps, a strain has been placed on the already fragile environmental-health infrastructure, including water and sewerage infrastructure and management. UNRWA is upgrading the infrastructure systems in the camps in response. Some of this is being done through conditional cash subsidies to beneficiaries to carry out simple maintenance works as part of the Agency’s self-help approach. The Agency has also started an environmental health promotion programme in the 12 camps.

Protection: UNRWA continues to monitor and offer advice and assistance to PRS crossing at the border and to advocate with the Lebanese government for equal treatment of all refugees at the border, as since August 2013, a number of refugees from Syria, including PRS, have been denied entry into Lebanon. Legal status in Lebanon is critical for protection vis-à-vis the Lebanese authorities, as it ensures PRS can pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, and complete civil registration processes. UNRWA continues to provide legal advice and assistance to PRS who do not possess a valid Lebanese visa.

Funding: Lebanon’s appeal for 2014 is US$ 90.4 million.



12,073 PRS and their non-PR spouses and children are recorded with UNRWA in Jordan

A further 1,450 PRS are being recorded, bringing the total beneficiaries eligible for UNRWA assistance to 13,523. The number of recoded arrivals has fallen to around 100 per month. However, new recordings continue to exceed entries, and there is likely a significant number of PRS in Jordan who have not yet registered with UNRWA. PRS receive relief, education, health and protection services.

A large number of PRS live in abject poverty and their precarious legal status creates difficulties for civil processes, access to services and employment. Of recorded PRS, 80 per cent are women, children and elderly; 7 per cent have a disability and 21 per cent declare a chronic illness. Fully 95 per cent of PRS come from the greater Damascus area and Dera’a province. In Jordan, 99 per cent live in host communities, where 84 per cent pay rent and 12 per cent have free housing. Only 188 PRS are housed in ‘Cyber City’, the government-appointed facility near Ramtha.

Needs assessment: UNRWA has just completed a multi-sector needs assessment of PRS in partnership with the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), and a summary will be circulated soon. The assessment found a large majority of PRS live in poverty.

Education: Admission to the 173 UNRWA schools across Jordan is open to PRS and Syrian IDP children residing in 10 official and 3 unofficial PR camps, and 2,092 PRS and Syrian children are enrolled in UNRWA schools, with 258 new students enrolled since the new semester in February. Fifty-four per cent are girls. The children are integrated in regular and remedial classes and follow the Jordanian curriculum. Fifty-seven more teachers have been hired to provide education, school furniture has been distributed and psychosocial and recreational activities are regularly organized to support childrens’ integration into the new schools.

The enrollment rate of PRS children in Jordan is estimated at 85 per cent, with around 12 per cent of girls not enrolled versus 18 per cent of boys. The main reasons given for not attending include: child labour; lack of a nearby school; weak, sick or traumatized child; and school expenses. UNRWA monitors and responds to drop-outs and offers targeted solutions to encourage families with out-of-school children to enrol them.

Picture: PRS students preparing a puppet show, February 2014, UNRWA Amir Hasan Girls School #1
Picture: PRS students preparing a puppet show, February 2014, UNRWA Amir Hasan Girls School #1

Cash assistance: PRS rank income/livelihoods, followed by housing and non-food items, as their priority need. The large majority of PRS are poor, but their individual situations are highly diverse. Fifty-seven per cent of households have one or more member engaged in paid labour, but many of these are in debt, a means by which 72 per cent of households meet their basic needs. Providing regular relief assistance to vulnerable households is critical to prevent them from falling into abject poverty. However, the UNRWA PRS cash-assistance programme is chronically underfunded, and currently not funded beyond April 2014.

In February, 742 PRS received cash assistance to help them meet their basic needs for two months. Ninety-nine PRS also received emergency cash grants to address an urgent protection or humanitarian need. Cash distributions for new arrivals will continue in March, and a distribution for all PRS is scheduled for March-April. This should be the last distribution before UNRWA shifts to an ATM-based, targeted system.

Non-food items: UNRWA is distributing NFI arrival kits to 600 PRS families, comprising bedding, hygiene kits and kitchen sets, among other items.

Picture: NFI Arrival Kits Distribution, Irbid, March 2014
Picture: NFI Arrival Kits Distribution, Irbid, March 2014

Health: UNRWA continues to provide PRS with free primary health care in its 24 clinics across Jordan, and hospital referrals for emergency and life-saving care with full coverage, except when the cost is prohibitive. In February 2014, PRS made 1,488 consultations for primary health care in UNRWA clinics and the JHAS clinic in Cyber City; 69 visits for secondary care; and 5 visits for tertiary care.

Overall, PRS have good access to health care, with 98 per cent reporting they receive medical care when they need it. However, 14 per cent of households report the overall health status of their household as bad or very bad, and one quarter of households declare over JOD 30 (US$ 42) per month in continuous medical expenses.

The needs assessment found PRS have significant psychosocial needs and identified serious problems, which UNRWA is responding to through referrals to specialized agencies.

Cyber City: Renovation works on bathroom facilities and electrical wires are nearly finished. Under its partnership agreement with UNRWA, Human Appeal International (HAI) continues to distribute hygiene kits to the residents of Cyber City, providing 130 kits in February 2014.

Funding: The UNRWA 2014 appeal for PRS in Jordan, of US$ 14.5 million, is just over 20 per cent funded so far, with contributions/pledges from the US, UK, Belgium, ECHO, Help Syria Through the Winter, Human Appeal International (HAI), OCHA and UNICEF. Another US$ 11.6 million is needed to provide assistance for up to 20,000 PRS in Jordan by the end of 2014. Additional funding for cash assistance is urgently needed to continue cash distributions beyond April 2014.


Security summary


Damascus / Rif Damascus:

East: Intermittent and sporadic clashes and shelling continued in Jobar and the adjacent area, Eastern Ghouta, showing an increase from previous weeks. Qaboun and Barzeh remained relatively calm, as in the previous report, continuing a reduction in hostilities over at least the last eight months. However, all UNRWA facilities remain closed in the areas due to hostilities and/or access restrictions, except for two schools housing IDPs in Qaboun.  

South: Sporadic and intermittent clashes and shelling were reported in Yarmouk camp early in the period, at times causing the suspension of food-parcel distributions. Yarmouk was then relatively calm for the rest of the period, except for occasional shelling and gunfire and a report that a mortar fell inside the queue for food distributions, killing six or seven Palestine refugees. This is a decrease from previous weeks. Qabr Essit camp and the surrounding areas were calm throughout the period, as in previous weeks. Sporadic clashes and shelling were reported around Sbeineh, although the camp remained calm, as in previous weeks. Ramadan remained relatively calm, as in previous weeks. Sporadic shelling continued throughout in Douma, a slight decrease from previous weeks.  

Yarmouk and Sbeineh remain sealed off, with access blocked by the security forces. Less than 30 per cent of Yarmouk residents remain, and less than 5 per cent in Sbeineh, with armed opposition elements present in both. An unconfirmed 15 PR died in Yarmouk as a result of lack of medical care, hostilities and detention, an increase from the previous report.

Southwest: Intermittent and sporadic hostilities continued in Darayya, reportedly including some airstrikes. Hostilities remained significantly reduced in Moadhamiyeh, which remained calm and accessible. Khan Eshieh was relatively calm, but with intermittent and sporadic clashes and shelling in surrounding areas. A number of shells reportedly impacted in the camp, some causing damage to houses but no reports of injuries. Overall hostilities were a slight increase from the previous report.

Aleppo: Sporadic, then intensive, then sporadic shelling was reported throughout the period, including in the vicinity of the UNRWA area office, an increase from previous weeks. One missile hit the building next to the area office, but no injuries were reported; and one landed near an UNRWA shelter, causing damage but no injuries. The area office and facilities remained operational as usual, but reports were received that two PR died. Ein El Tal: No direct contact was possible with anyone in the camp, as in previous weeks. The camp presumably remains occupied by armed opposition groups, and the number of PR in the camp presumably remains very low. One PR reportedly died as a result of hostilities. Neirab camp remained relatively calm for all of the reporting period, with all facilities operational, as in previous weeks. Two PR reportedly died due to hostilities.    

Dera’a: Intermittent and then sporadic violence in the vicinity of the camp, with an airstrike hitting part of the camp and destroying vacant houses. This is an increase from previous weeks, but the camp otherwise remained relatively calm, with all facilities operational. Mzerieb remained relatively calm throughout the period, as in the previous report. Jillien remained calm for the reporting period, as in previous weeks.

Homs: Intermittent and mostly sporadic clashes and shelling with a large number of mortars was reported, showing an increase in hostilities from previous weeks. Homs camp remained relatively calm, with all facilities operational, as in previous weeks. There were reports that one PR died in detention. Hama camp remained relatively calm, with all facilities operational, as in previous weeks. Latakia: A number of rocket explosions were reported early and mid-period, but it otherwise remained calm, with all facilities operational, as in previous weeks.

Table 1: Number of PR and Syrian IDPs in UNRWA facilities as of 2 April 2014 showing variation (in brackets) from last update, Issue 72






Damascus Training Centre  (DTC)





Damascus (Jaramana Camp)





Damascus (Mezzeh)





Damascus (Khan Eshieh Camp)

60 (-11)

67 (+6)

86 (-3)

213 (-8)

Damascus (Ramadan Camp)

   239 (-16)

278 (-17)

559 (-22)

1,076 (-55)

Damascus (Dummar)

140 (-7)

166 (-1)

264 (+5)

570  (-3)

Damascus (Rukn Eddin)





Damascus (Khan Dunoun Camp)





Damascus (Al Qaboun)











13 (-4)

11 (-5)

19 (-13)

43 (-22)


2,080 (-38)

2,085 (-17)

3,736 (-33)

7,901 (-88)


The number of displaced PR and Syrian IDPs in UNRWA facilities in Syria diminished from the previous report, Issue 72, by 88. There was a decrease in Ramadan camp of 55, in Latakia of 22, in Khan Eshieh camp of 8 and a small decrease in Dummar, of 3.

Graph 4: Displaced Palestinian and Syrian refugees in UNRWA facilities in Syria, monthly peaksGraph 4: Displaced Palestinian and Syrian refugees in UNRWA facilities in Syria, monthly peaks