Palestinian Refugees Still Dangerously Short on Food, Supplies in Syria

The staggering image of people lining up for food in Syria making the rounds on the Internet today is from late January, but represents an ongoing humanitarian crisis in a besieged Palestinian refugee camp.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

United Nations officials are drawing attention to heartbreaking conditions at the Yarmouk camp in Syria, where Palestinian refugees have become besieged by the ongoing civil war. U.N. official Filippo Grandi, who visited the camp yesterday described a disturbing scene, saying "the Palestine refugees with whom I spoke were traumatized by what they have lived through, and many were in evident need of immediate support, particularly food and medical treatment." 

efore the civil war began Yarmouk was the largest Palestinian camp in Syria, serving as a home for 150,000 displaced Palestinians. Now 20,000 refugees remain, and they are desperate to get out. The camp was occupied by Syrian opposition fighters in December 2012 and has been under government siege since July 2013. The siege has made it extremely difficult for aid workers to bring much-needed supplies to the encampment. The Syrian government blocked U.N. workers from entering the camp from July to January of this year. Now, the U.N. notes, conditions are dire: 

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. After partial humanitarian access was granted on 18 January and 20 February, UNRWA had successfully distributed 7,000 food parcels, 10,000 polio vaccines and a range of other medical supplements to civilians inside the camp.

BBC foreign correspondent Lyse Doucet joined Grandi on his visit to the camp, where she spoke to one 60-year-old woman who sobbed as she spoke, saying "Please, please take us out, we are dying here." Doucet also recounted speaking to a 13-year-old boy who at first told her that "life is normal, fine," before admitting that "there was no bread" for him that day and starting to cry. Doucet describes the heartbreaking scene:

The day we enter Yarmouk with the UN after securing permission from the Syrian government, only about 60 food parcels are handed out to men and women who line up, in neat and orderly separate queues. Behind them, inside blackened buildings, we could make out more queues forming with people shouting and pushing forward. Thousands more people further inside were not even able to reach this narrow opening.

Earlier this month, NBC reported that some relief workers said Yarmouk refugees are so hungry they have resorted to eating cats, grass and cactus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say more than 80 camp residents have starved to death over the past few months, and relief workers say they fear more deaths are coming.

A January photograph of refugees lining up for relief aid has resurfaced today, a somber representation of the suffering at Yarmouk.

Yarmouk refugees line up for food, Jan 31. AP/UNRWA

Other, more recent photographs show that the suffering has only continued through this past month.

Refugees in Yarmouk, Feb 24. REUTERS/Rame Alsayed

Refugees wait for UN aid in Yarmouk, Feb 24. REUTERS/Rame Alsayed

Another round of Syrian peace talks in mid-February were ultimately unproductive, leaving officials pessimistic about how to solve the crisis. As the country's civil war nears a three-year anniversary, up to 140,000 deaths have been blamed on the crisis. Millions have been displaced, and residents throughout the nation are scrambling for food and medicine. Over the weekend, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that requires battling sides to keep from blocking aid to civilians, but the motion doesn't offer any long-term solutions for the snowballing crisis. Without a foreign military willing to enforce it, the resolution hold little weight.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.