Thursday April 09, 2015

Living in Yarmouk refugee camp is hard enough. Then ISIS showed up.

The Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which is under siege by Syrian government forces fighting rebels, has received its first relief supplies since the beginning of December. The aid was delivered by the United Nations Relief and Works Organization (UNRWA) on March 5th, 2015.

The Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which is under siege by Syrian government forces fighting rebels, has received its first relief supplies since the beginning of December. The aid was delivered by the United Nations Relief and Works Organization (UNRWA) on March 5th, 2015. (Reuters)

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Some eight kilometres from the centre of Damascus, the capital of Syria, is Yarmouk — a refugee camp, mostly for Palestinians, and today especially, an extremely desolate place. Under siege, and under bombardment. Very little goes in. Very little comes out.

When the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the Yarmouk Refugee Camp, the head of the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees described the situation there as — quote — "completely catastrophic."

''Today, we ran out of food, and now it's the first day without water. No aid at all is getting into the camp.  We have been under siege here for 750 days.'- Palestinian in Yarmouk camp, a few days ago' - Palestinian in Yarmouk camp, a few days ago

It's certainly been some time since Yarmouk could have been considered a safe haven... though that may be how it started. Since December of 2012, it has been under a blockade by the government of Bashar al-Assad. Now — a fresh new Hell — as ISIS militants have overrun the camp in the past week. Controlling, by some accounts, as much as 80 or 90 per cent of the area now.

Salim Salamah is the head of Palestinian League for Human Rights, Syria. He was born in Yarmouk, but got out in 2012. Today he lives in Malmo, Sweden.For ISIS, it's a move into the heart of the Syrian capital. For the refugees of Yarmouk, a humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East — or UNRWA — provides support for Palestinian refugees throughout the region, including in Yarmouk. Christopher Gunness is UNRWA's Spokesperson and he was in Jerusalem.

If ISIS does completely seize Yarmouk, the group will be standing within just five kilometres of Syria's Presidential Palace. Which, on the face of things, would seem like some very bad news for President Bashar Al-Assad. But, as with so much else in Syria right now, things may not be that simple.

Bessma Momani is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo


This segment was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott and Sonya Buyting.