UNRWA chief speaks of 'shocking' scenes in besieged Syria camp
Published Tuesday 25/02/2014 (updated) 27/02/2014 18:06
A handout picture released by SANA on Feb. 24, 2014 shows residents
of Syria's besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp during a relief
operation led by the UNRWA (SANA/AFP/File)
BEIRUT (AFP) -- The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees spoke Tuesday of the "shocking" conditions he had seen inside a Syrian camp which has been under siege and bombardment for months.
UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi called for sustained access for aid deliveries to some 18,000 Palestinians who have been trapped under fire in the Yarmouk camp, in south Damascus, with dwindling food supplies.
"It's like the appearance of ghosts," he said of the sight of hundreds of Palestinians flooding toward an aid distribution point at the camp, when he was in the Syrian capital on Monday.
"These are people that have not been out of there," he told reporters in Beirut.
They "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."
He said the part of the camp he had been able to enter was "like a ghost town".
"The devastation is unbelievable. There is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now."
But he said the condition of the camp's remaining residents "is more shocking even".
"They can hardly speak," he said.
"I tried to speak to many of them, and they all tell the same stories of complete deprivation."
UNRWA has been urging humanitarian access to Yarmouk for months, warning of the dire circumstances in the camp that once housed some 160,000 Palestinians as well as many Syrians.
After a deal, the agency began distributing aid at a designated point on January 18, but the operation was halted on February 8 and virtually no help has been handed out since then.
Grandi said he hoped that a UN Security Council resolution calling for immediate humanitarian access across Syria would create pressure for increased and sustained aid for residents of Yarmuk and other areas.
The resolution, which was adopted unanimously, is "stronger than any other tool we've ever had before in Syria," he said.
But he added that the situation in Syria was also extremely complicated.
"Not all of the people that make decisions on a daily basis on access or no access have even read the resolution," he said.
"So it's important that the message is filtered down from the decision-makers in Syria ... to the commanders on the ground on both sides."
Yarmuk is one of several parts of Syria where civilians are trapped under regime or opposition sieges which prevent freedom of movement and the entry of food and medicines.
More than 140,000 people have died in Syria since the the conflict erupted in March 2011.