Warning that food and basic supplies are running dangerously low for thousands of Palestinians languishing in the besieged Damascus suburb of Yarmouk, the United Nations agency assisting Palestine refugees across the Middle East called Saturday for speedy access to the men, women and children whose lives hang in the balance.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was again today unable to deliver humanitarian aid to Yarmouk, said spokesperson Chris Gunness, who explained that UNRWA has not had access to the camp since fighting broke out late at night on 7 February, forcing the agency to temporarily suspend its activities.
“We have not distributed food there over a week now, which is potentially life-threatening for the besieged civilians trapped by the conflict and desperately dependent on UNRWA for food and basic medicines,” he said.
UNRWA has been able to distribute more than 6,500 food parcels, 10,000 polio vaccines and a range of other medical supplies since 18 January, when, after months of negotiations with the parties, its access to the area was restored for the first time since September.
But a food parcel lasts an average family about 10 days, so those provisions will now be running out, Mr. Gunness explained, adding that, “given the context, such as malnutrition which is reportedly widespread, the fate particularly of women and children is of growing concern.”
Prior to the armed conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, Yarmouk – a suburb just south of Damascus – was home to over 160,000 Palestine refugees. Since December 2012, fighting 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.
“The United Nations must have secure, substantial and sustained humanitarian access to the besieged civilians of Yarmouk,” said Mr. Gunness today, adding that UNRWA is encouraged by the cooperation among the parties which allowed the agency to resume aid to civilians January, “and we trust that we will soon be allowed to continue our distributions.”