Briefing members of the international press this afternoon at United Nations Headquarters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the “epic humanitarian catastrophe” facing the 18,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians being held hostage by extremist militants in Yarmouk camp.
“In the horror that is Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell,” he said. “A refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp. The residents of Yarmouk – including 3,500 children – are being turned into human shields.”
After more than two years of a merciless siege, residents now faced a “double-edged sword”, with members of ISIL and other extremist groups inside the camp and Government forces outside.
“We are now hearing worrying reports of a massive assault on the camp and all civilians in it,” as he described the latest chapter in a war which, he said, had long ago exceeded words to describe the mayhem. “This would be yet one more outrageous war crime for which those responsible must be held accountable.”
Mr. Ban said the priority is to stabilize the situation in the camp and he joined the Security Council in demanding an end to hostilities, access for humanitarian assistance and safe passage for civilians who wish to escape safely.
In that regard, he called on all Member States with influence on the Government and all parties on the ground to take all steps necessary to send a clear message.
“Civilians must be spared. Civilians must be protected at all times,” he said, adding that he would continue to press that unequivocal message in meetings and phone calls with world leaders as the international community faced an “epic test” of its resolve as it tried to avoid an “epic humanitarian catastrophe.”
Concerted action to save lives in Yarmouk and restore a measure of humanity was needed and he underlined that the world could not simply stand by, abandon Yarmouk's residents and watch a massacre unfold.
“Surely we can all agree that what is unfolding in Yarmouk is unacceptable,” he said. “Surely, we can all act to end the suffering. Surely, we can all refuse to tolerate the intolerable.”