Yarmouk (unofficial camp*)

UNRWA Sakhnin School, Yarmouk, Damascus. ©2021UNRWA Photo by Noorhan Abdul Hafeez
UNRWA Sakhnin School, Yarmouk, Damascus. ©2021UNRWA Photo by Noorhan Abdul Hafeez.

Before the eruption of the conflict in 2011, Yarmouk was home to approximately 160,000 Palestine refugees, making it the largest Palestine refugee community in Syria. Located eight kilometres from Damascus, it is one of three unofficial camps in Syria. Unlike other Palestine refugee camps and gatherings in Syria, it resembled an urban quarter. The original population of the camp and its surroundings constituted of 1,200,000 residents. The camp had a very good reputation and was considered as the capital of the Palestinian diaspora.

Yarmouk was established in 1957. It occupies an area of 2.1 square kilometres to accommodate refugees who were scattering in mosques, schools and other public places. Over the years, the refugees improved their shelters and added more rooms to them. Before the conflict, the camp was crowded with cement block homes, and densely populated. Three main roads lined with shops and crammed with service taxis and microbuses ran through Yarmouk.

In December 2012, fierce clashes erupted in Yarmouk, causing numerous civilian casualties, severe damage to property and the displacement of thousands of Palestine refugees and Syrians. The camp was under siege from July 2013, drastically restricting the entry of commercial and humanitarian goods. In January 2014, UNRWA had access to Yarmouk and conducted direct distribution to besieged Palestine refugees. The Agency continued distribution until April 2015, when armed opposition groups captured over 60 per cent of the camp, containing over 90 per cent of the remaining civilian population. This not only made UNRWA unable to carry out any distributions inside Yarmouk but also displaced most of the remaining 18,000 Palestine refugees and other civilians to the neighbouring areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham (YBB). Later in 2015, UNRWA managed to access the remaining 6,000 Palestine refugees who remained in Yarmouk and those who were in YBB through cross-border missions to Yalda and continued until May 2016 when access was blocked. Almost all the remaining Palestine refugees who were living in Yarmouk who did not leave, left during the final government offensive in Yarmouk in April-May 2018, after which the government retook control of the camp.

The Agency conducted a damage assessment in October 2018 and found that all 23 UNRWA premises in the camp and nearby Hajjar al Aswad, including 16 school buildings, were heavily affected by the conflict.

As of November 2020, the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic announced the official start of the return registration process to Yarmouk. As of early 2021, a few hundreds of families, both Syrian and Palestine refugee families, have returned to reside inside the camp. The basic infrastructure inside the camp is heavily damaged and regular access to electricity and water remains challenging. 

Like in other areas of Syria, protection and security risks – including related to contamination by Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and falling debris - are among the main concerns. The already very dire situation is now compounded by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic decline of the economic situation.

As of March 2021, the Agency is accessing the camp on a daily basis to provide mobile service provision inside the camp to families who have returned, including mobile health services, distribution of food and non-food items, and distribution of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW)-awareness flyers. In addition, the Agency is providing transportation to more than 140 students from the camp to the nearby UNRWA-managed schools, which are hosted in government schools.

 

UNRWA INSTALLATIONS:

  • Three health centres – two completely destroyed and one partially damaged
  • 16 school buildings – all need major repairs/rebuilding
  • One area office building – needs major repairs
  • One  educational development centre – needs major repairs
  • Two community centres – one needs major repairs, other to be completely rebuilt
     

*A number of so-called unofficial refugee camps were established over time by the host governments to provide accommodation for Palestine refugees. In all respects, refugees in official and unofficial camps have equal access to UNRWA services, except that UNRWA is not responsible for solid waste collection in the unofficial camps.

REFUGEE CAMPS IN Syria

We provide services in 12 Palestine refugee camps in Syria. UNRWA does not administer or police the camps, as this is the responsibility of the host authorities.