UN agency voices ‘deep concern’ as violence in Yarmouk refugee camp intensifies

10 April 2015

The violence in Yarmouk camp is intensifying, plunging the Palestinian refugee camp into the “lower reaches of hell” amid running battles between armed groups, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said today.

“The world community must not stand by as a silent witness to what the UN Secretary-General has warned could be a massacre,” UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness told reporters today via telephone from Jerusalem. “Yarmouk is at the lower reaches of hell. It must not be allowed to descend further.”

Since 1 April, Yarmouk has been the scene of intense fighting between a number of armed groups, reportedly including elements of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), rendering it virtually impossible for civilians to leave.

Among Yarmouk’s 18,000 besieged residents are also 3,500 children, who have been reliant on UNRWA’s intermittent distributions of food and other assistance for over a year. In some areas, interruptions of humanitarian operations have left thousands of people without aid for months.

Mr. Gunness said UNRWA remained “deeply concerned” about the lack of humanitarian access to the camp, noting that Yarmouk was already underserviced prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

In a besieged camp where women have been dying in childbirth due to a lack of medicine and children dying of malnutrition, the uptick in violence had made the situation significantly worse, he added.

“As fighting continues to escalate, UNRWA demands for all armed groups inside Yarmouk respect and comply with their obligations to ensure the protection of civilians,” the UNRWA spokesperson continued. “UNRWA further demands the establishment of secure conditions under which the agency can deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance.”

According to UNRWA’s estimations, armed groups have been in control of more than half of the camp and 95 per cent of Yarmouk’s population lives in areas controlled by these groups. At the same time, aerial bombardments perpetrated by undisclosed elements were further aggravating the situation.

“All diplomatic, economic and religious levers must be pulled to influence the parties on the ground,” Mr. Gunness concluded.

“UNRWA and its partners stand ready to continue providing humanitarian assistance to civilians inside Yarmouk and to those who may be displaced from Yarmouk as a result of the ongoing armed violence.”

 

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