Last updated: 29 October, 2014

UN agency urges more access to Syria Palestinian camp

A UN official visiting Syria has called for greater access to a besieged Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus, where residents say they have been without water for some 40 days.

Speaking to AFP, the deputy commissioner general for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said increased access to the Yarmuk camp was a priority.

“In the conversations we had with the government, we were imploring them, urging them to allow us… to take more food into the camp,” Margot Ellis said in the interview in Damascus on Tuesday.

“We have the supplies of food, we stand ready with the staff to deliver that food but we need the government’s approval.”

Ellis said the agency was currently delivering some food and medical assistance to the approximately 18,000 Palestinians still living in the ravaged camp.

But the food deliveries were meeting just 20 percent of their needs.

Ellis said discussions with the Syrian government on Monday had been positive and that the agency was hoping it would be able to step up assistance.

“The government left open the door yesterday to allow greater assistance into Yarmuk, so we’re hoping to see greater levels of assistance going into Yarmuk in the next weeks.”

Yarmuk camp was once a bustling suburb, home to more than 160,000 Palestinians and Syrians.

But it has been devastated by fighting and a tight blockade imposed by the army a year ago that has created dire humanitarian conditions.

Around 200 people have died because of shortages in the camp, according to NGOs.

UNRWA has repeatedly sought to draw attention to conditions in the camp, circulating a stark photograph earlier this year of thousands of desperate residents queueing in the hope of receiving a share of a meagre food delivery.

Residents have also sounded the alarm in recent weeks about water shortages.

“People are getting water from wells and are forced to walk long distances to transport water from one part of the camp to another,” said camp resident Rami al-Sayyed.

Rebels took over much of Yarmuk more than a year ago, prompting the government to lay siege to it.

In late June, a truce between the government and the rebels, that was backed by Palestinians factions, led to an easing of the blockade.

Some of the remaining civilians are now able to leave the camp to buy supplies, but humanitarian access remains limited.