The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.
Syria’s starving hordes: In a biblical picture of suffering, crowd stretching for as far as the eye can see gathers amid the rubble of Damascus for UN food hand-outs
- Yarmouk, the Palestinian area of Damascus has been sealed to the outside world on and off since July
- These photographs show the first food parcel arrival in Yarmouk for months, hundreds lining in the streets
- Yarmouk may yet again cut off from humanitarian aid following clashes in Syria’s capital, UN reports
- Today, 175 rebel and foreign fighters were killed in a Syrian army ambush near Damascus
By Sara Malm
Hundreds of men, women and children fight to get to the front of the queue as a refugee camp in Damascus receives food parcels after being cut off for months.
Today the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) called on rebel forces and Al-Assad’s troops alike to allow ‘safe and unhindered humanitarian access’ to thousands of civilians in Yarmouk, a Palestinian district in the Syrian capital.
Yarmouk has seen some of the worst fighting in the capital, leading to severe food shortages and widespread hunger.
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Hour of need: Residents of Syria’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, crowding a destroyed street during a food distribution led by the UN agency
Never ending plight: The ‘Yarmouk Camp’ is a district of Damascus populated by more than 112,000 Palestinian refugees, who are now starving to death
Desperate need: A sick young woman is queuing up for a food parcel and medical assistance alongside her family in Yarmouk
UNWRA chief Chris Gunnes spoke today after a rare visit to Yarmouk on Monday where relief agencies have found it particularly difficult to provide food and medical assistance.
The Yarmouk Camp is a 0.8sq.mi. district of Damascus populated by more than 112,000 Palestinian refugees, who are mainly cut off from any foreign help.
Yarmouk Camp has been sealed since July 2013, resulting in acute and widespread deprivation, including severe malnutrition, while civilian residents are constantly exposed to the threat of death, injuries and trauma of the armed conflict.
The UN was given access to the camp by the Syrian authorities late January, which is when the photograph was taken.
However, following clashes in northern Yarmouk earlier this month, UNRWA said distribution of food parcels and medical supplies may be suspended yet again.
Christopher Gunness, from UNRWA, said: ‘It is impossible not to be touched by the apocalyptic scenes emerging from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, besieged and cut off for months.
Long wait: Children await UN food parcels in Yarmouk, Damascus during a relief operation led by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA
Any help will do: The Palestinian district of Damascus has been sealed on and off since July last year and has been subjected to heavy fighting during the war in Syria
Saviours: Staff from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has resumed distribution of desperately needed food and medicine
Helping hands: Sick and starving Palestinian residents hope to get a spot on ambulances provided by UNRWA
‘The images are at once epic and personal. Row upon row of gaunt faces, serried ranks of grimy, raged figures; the delicate, hunger-ravaged features of children waiting in line for an UNRWA food parcel; the face of a mother creased in grief for a deceased child; tears of joy as a father is reunited with a long-lost daughter.
‘These are the vignettes of inhumanity that have become the regular fare of nightly news bulletins. They are UNRWA’s daily reality.’
The reports of humanitarian crisis came as more than 175 rebels and foreign fighters, including ‘Saudis, Qataris and Chechens,’ were killed Wednesday in a Syrian army ambush near Damascus, state news agency SANA reported.
It said an army unit ‘spotted Al-Nusra Front (jihadist) and Liwa al-Islam (Islamist) terrorists’ near Damascus, and ‘killed 175 of them and wounded several others.’
Yesterday the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned that Syrians could soon overtake Afghans as the world’s biggest refugee population.
Hardship: The UN has warned that Syrians could soon overtake Afghans as the world’s biggest refugee population, expecting to break the four million barrier by the end of 2014
Starving: During a brief period of access between late January and last week, over 7,700 food baskets were been distributed and 3,400 people with medical conditions were evacuated from Yarmouk
No aid: Following months of starvation and battle, Palestinian residents wait for a United Nations aid ambulance in Yarmouk, Damascus
The organisation is predicting that the number of displaced Syrians will pass four million by the end of 2014.
Opposition activists say more than 140,000 people have died in the conflict, which enters its fourth year next month. The U.N. says 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.The number of Afghan refugees was 2.6 million at the end of 2012, UNHCR says.
Syrians, with nearly 2.5 million registered as refugees, should overtake that long before the end of the year. About one-half of the refugees are children.
‘It breaks my heart to see this nation that for decades welcomed refugees from other countries ripped apart and forced into exile itself,’ Guterres told the U.N. General Assembly. Just five years ago, Syria hosted the world’s second-largest number of refugees, he said.
Syria’s neighbors now plead for assistance as hundreds or thousands of people flee into their countries every day.
The number of Syrian refugees now registered in far smaller Lebanon, for example, is the equivalent of having 71 million of them registered in the United States or almost 15 million in France, Guterres said.