Desperation and starvation: inside Syria’s Yarmouk camp

The UN agency for Palestinian Refugees' image is a snapshot of misery in Yarmouk refugee camp, Syria

It is a snapshot of misery: a sea of men, women and children stretching to the horizon, flanked by the war-ravaged landscape of Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

The image, released by the UN agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, on Wednesday, shows thousands of desperate residents clamouring for food parcels being distributed by aid workers, the first the agency has been able to deliver in more than two weeks.

More than 18,000 Palestinian refugees and an unknown number of Syrians live in Yarmouk, located on the outskirts of the country’s capital. The camp has been cut off since last July, a victim of the continued fighting in Syria’s three-year-old civil war.

Shelling has destroyed much of the camp’s infrastructure, while its residents have endured severe shortages of food, clean water, medicine and other essentials.

Many are severely malnourished, and constantly exposed to the threat of injury or death from the surrounding armed conflict. Some 100 people have died in the camp in recent months, according to UN figures.

“It's like the appearance of ghosts. These are people who have not been out of there, that have been trapped in there not only without food, medicines, clean water – all the basics – but also probably completely subjected to fear because there was fierce fighting,” UNRWA commissioner general Filippo Grandi, who entered the camp on Wednesday, told reporters. “They can hardly speak. I tried to speak to many of them, and they all tell the same stories of complete deprivation.”

Aid workers have distributed more than 7,000 food parcels, 10,000 doses of polio vaccine and other supplies over recent weeks, after partial humanitarian access was granted in January. The most recent delivery, of 450 food parcels, followed a two-week suspension in aid after fresh fighting broke out in northern Yarmouk.

“The devastation is unbelievable. There is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now,” Grandi told reporters.

The UN Security Council earlier this month adopted a resolution calling on all parties in Syria to boost aid access and provide relief to civilians, “including safe and unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need of assistance”.

Grandi said it was vital that “all sides implement the resolution without fail”.

Syria’s civil war has claimed more than 100,000 lives since 2012 and has forced millions more from their homes. The UN says 9.3 million people – more than half the population – are in need of aid.

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