UN sustains two weeks of humanitarian access to besieged, hard to reach civilians in Damascus

Press Release

UN concerned about 20,000 civilians in southern Syria, demands access. (Photo: unrwa.org)

UN concerned about 20,000 civilians in southern Syria, demands access. (Photo: unrwa.org)

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness reported today:

With the completion of humanitarian missions this week, UNRWA has been able to sustain two weeks of humanitarian access to besieged and hard to reach communities in the Syrian capital, Damascus. We were able to resume operations in the Damascus suburb of Yalda on February 14 for the first time in over six months, distributing 5,700 food parcels to families from the besieged Palestine refugee camp of Yarmouk, Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham over a 5-day operation. Then From Sunday 21 to Wednesday 24 February, we distributed thermal blankets to Palestine refugees and other civilians from Yarmouk, Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham, from a distribution point in Yalda. A total of 19,160 blankets were distributed to approximately 5,700 families.

Residents had previously reported that blankets were a critical need due to recurring low temperatures during the winter season. Electricity and water have been cut in Yarmouk for the past three years. Repeated clashes and armed violence over the last years have resulted in extensive damages to civilian houses. Refugees reported that their houses do not have windows, and that they have nothing but plastic bags to replace them with, and protect their families from the cold.

Access to clean water remains extremely difficult in Yarmouk, with people relying on untreated water from shallow wells for their daily needs. The lack of fuel and the shortage of water purifying tablets prevent water treatment. Palestine refugees from Yarmouk have reported an increased incidence of WASH-related and winter diseases. The lack of medicines further compounds vulnerabilities particularly for children and elderly, resulting in increased health risks for the community.

UNRWA will distribute hygiene kits to families from Yarmouk, Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham next week. UNRWA also seeks to bring a mobile health team in the coming week, to provide much-needed basic primary healthcare to civilians from the area. UNRWA is coordinating closely with other humanitarian partners and hopes this renewed access, facilitated by the Syrian authorities, will lead to sustained operations in the area.

Meanwhile, UNRWA remains cut off from and is concerned about the plight of over twenty thousand civilians in Palestine camps and gatherings in Dera’a governorate in the south of Syria as well as in Khan Eshieh camp, south west of Damascus. In both areas, refugees have been exposed to direct armed conflict, violence and humanitarian deprivation and we need immediate and sustained humanitarian access. In Khan Eshieh we estimate that there are about 5,000 civilians and in the inaccessible areas of Dera’a governorate we estimate there are about 17,500 people, including many thousands of children.

A large proportion of the population of Deraa camp was displaced or fled, leaving the camp largely uninhabited. There has been no UNRWA access to Deraa camp since late 2012,when the camp was regularly struck by explosive munitions, causing widespread damage, including to several UNRWA schools and health clinics.

No UNRWA facilities are currently operational in the camp. There is still very limited civilian traffic in and out of the camp, to access services and assistance in Deraa City, albeit via a highly dangerous route.

Resident UNRWA staff continue to provide education and health services, but no humanitarian missions or deliveries have been possible on account of the ongoing armed conflict in the area. Palestine refugees must travel to Deraa city to receive assistance and some services.

UNRWA remains extremely concerned that civilians from these areas continue to endure deprivations and deplorable living conditions, including sustained exposure to armed violence, as the areas continue to be affected by the conflict.