Typhoid enters the ‘the lowest reaches of hell’
Ma’an news provides the background on the typhoid outbreak; 2) IRIN reports on the UN decision to declare the camp is no longer under siege; 3) Just three months earlier, the UN reports on the deadly violence at the camp.
Residents of Syria’s besieged Yarmouk refugee camp gather to collect food aid in the adjacent Jazira neighbourhood on February 13, 2015. Photo by Rami al-Sayed/AFP
By AFP /Ma’an news
August 19, 2015
BEIRUT — Typhoid has broken out among Palestinian refugees from the besieged Yarmouk camp in the Syrian capital Damascus, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Wednesday.
UNRWA said it had been able to confirm the outbreak after gaining access to residents of the camp sheltering in the nearby Yalda neighbourhood.
“UNRWA has had its first access to civilians from the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, Damascus, since 8th June,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement.
“We can now confirm a typhoid outbreak among this UN-assisted population with at least six confirmed cases,” he added.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 21 million people are infected with typhoid every year, and an estimated 216,000 to 600,000 die.
The disease is caused mainly by Salmonella typhi bacteria in food or water contaminated with the faeces or urine of infected people.
UNRWA said the visit to Yalda was its first since access was suspended to areas sheltering displaced Yarmouk residents on June 8.
It has not had access to Yarmouk itself since March.
Yarmouk was once a thriving neighbourhood of Damascus, home to both Palestinian refugees but also Syrians.
But after fighting erupted in the camp, the government in 2013 imposed a blockade and the area’s population shrank from 160,000 to just 18,000.
The siege prompted a major humanitarian crisis, with people dying for lack of food or access to medical care.
The situation in Yarmouk has worsened in recent months, with Islamic State group militants entering in April, prompting fierce clashes.
Several thousand civilians have been able to leave the camp but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group and a Yarmouk resident told AFP that up to 14,000 people are still living inside.
Despite that, the UN has removed Yarmouk from its list of besieged areas in Syria, reducing the number of Syrians under siege by 18,000 in its May 22 report on people under blockade.
Gunness repeated UNRWA’s longstanding call for humanitarian access to the Yarmouk camp.
“Never has the imperative for sustained humanitarian access been greater,” he said.
“UNRWA’s priority remains the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians within Yarmouk itself.”
A malnourished child cries in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinians
So far [end of July] in 2015, the UN has submitted 48 requests to deliver aid to besieged or hard-to-reach areas. Of these, 20 have been approved and only seven planned deliveries have been fully completed, according to the UNSG’s latest report. Photo: UNRWA
By Joe Dyke, IRIN
July 24, 2015
BEIRUT – The United Nations has quietly removed a major Palestinian camp from its list of besieged areas in Syria, despite not being able to deliver aid there for four months, and to the shock of residents.
The Yarmouk camp, a sprawling residential area on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, was home to over 200,000 Palestinians before the country’s civil war began in 2011. The vast majority of the population has since fled, but around 18,000 people have remained trapped inside by a government siege for more than two years.
Earlier this year, militants from the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) briefly infiltrated Yarmouk and seized a large part of it. Control of the camp is still disputed but government forces maintain checkpoints around the area preventing people from coming and going.
The UN continues to have no direct access, but has been able, with partners, to deliver aid to three nearby suburbs. Consequently, in his latest report to the UN Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reclassified the camp.
Ahmed*, a Yarmouk resident, said that people were still denied entry and exit and that no support had been received for more than a month.
When told that the UN no longer considered the camp besieged, he called the organisation “liars.”
“The UN stopped its support more than 50 days ago,” he told IRIN.
When is a siege not a siege?
Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNWRA – the UN’s agency for Palestinians and the leading UN body concerned with Yarmouk – confirmed that no aid had been allowed in for months.
“Access to Yarmouk in the context of the last few years has been appalling,” he said. “We have not managed to have the access that we need and certainly we have not been in the camp since March 28, just a few days before ISIS moved in.”
The final decision on the status of the camp, however, is made not by UNRWA but by the UN secretary-general (UNSG) on the advice of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which oversees all the UN’s emergency aid programmes.
The latest UNSG report on Syria – released at the end of June – says that 422,000 people remain besieged in Syria, down from 440,000 earlier this year. The difference is due to the 18,000 people in Yarmouk, who are no longer considered besieged.
The report argues that aid has reached those who have crossed into the neighbouring areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm, but even that assistance has been cut off since the government withdrew permission on 8 June.
Inside the camp, it says, “no humanitarian access has been granted directly” since 28 March.
The UN defines a besieged area as one that is, “surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit the area.”
Ahmed told IRIN civilians were unable to leave Yarmouk for fear of arrest at Syrian government checkpoints.
The reclassification of Yarmouk – an iconic location in the civil war due in part to a globally shared photo (shown above this story) of thousands of Palestinians waiting for aid – comes as the United Nations faces separate criticism for allegedly underestimating the number of people under siege, particularly those by the Syrian regime.
The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, a US-registered non-profit, released a report in March alleging that more than 600,000 people are under siege by government forces, more than treble the number the UN claimed at the time. The report, which did not include more than 200,000 people under siege by the so-called Islamic State, identified 38 communities it said should be considered, beyond those the UN actually recognises.
Valerie Szybala, author of the report, said OCHA has not applied its definition of besieged consistently.
She pointed out that the Moadamiya al-Sham neighbourhood in the Western Ghouta area of the Damascus suburbs was one of the longest and harshest sieges in Syria until last November when it was removed following a brief local ceasefire. “After the collapse of the ceasefire, it has remained unclassified.”
“OCHA makes concessions to the Syrian government regarding besieged areas that it feels are appropriate to do good work. This means sacrificing the means in order to deliver the ends,” Szybala said. “But it is not appropriate, and I think they are doing more damage than good.”
The UN relies upon the Syrian government to grant it access to populations in many areas. However, the Assad regime routinely denies permission.
Szybala raised concerns of “political influence” in this approach.
OCHA spokesperson Amanda Pitt did not comment on exactly why Yarmouk was reclassified.
“For the time being, Yarmouk is not considered besieged but it remains an area of highest concern,” she told IRIN. “Thousands of civilians remain trapped in the area, and thousands more have been displaced to the surrounding areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham.”
* Name has been changed to protect his identity.
Men crouch in doorways in Yarmouk refugee camp for protection from the weather and fighting after ISIL tried to establish itself in the camp, near Damascus. April 2015 photo by Walla Masoud, UNRWA
By UN News Centre
April 10, 2015
The violence in Yarmouk camp is intensifying, plunging the Palestinian refugee camp into the “lower reaches of hell” amid running battles between armed groups, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said today.
“The world community must not stand by as a silent witness to what the UN Secretary-General has warned could be a massacre,” UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness told reporters today via telephone from Jerusalem. “Yarmouk is at the lower reaches of hell. It must not be allowed to descend further.”
Since 1 April, Yarmouk has been the scene of intense fighting between a number of armed groups, reportedly including elements of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), rendering it virtually impossible for civilians to leave.
Among Yarmouk’s 18,000 besieged residents are also 3,500 children, who have been reliant on UNRWA’s intermittent distributions of food and other assistance for over a year. In some areas, interruptions of humanitarian operations have left thousands of people without aid for months.
Mr. Gunness said UNRWA remained “deeply concerned” about the lack of humanitarian access to the camp, noting that Yarmouk was already underserviced prior to the outbreak of hostilities.
In a besieged camp where women have been dying in childbirth due to a lack of medicine and children dying of malnutrition, the uptick in violence had made the situation significantly worse, he added.
“As fighting continues to escalate, UNRWA demands for all armed groups inside Yarmouk respect and comply with their obligations to ensure the protection of civilians,” the UNRWA spokesperson continued. “UNRWA further demands the establishment of secure conditions under which the agency can deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance.”
According to UNRWA’s estimations, armed groups have been in control of more than half of the camp and 95 per cent of Yarmouk’s population lives in areas controlled by these groups. At the same time, aerial bombardments perpetrated by undisclosed elements were further aggravating the situation.
“All diplomatic, economic and religious levers must be pulled to influence the parties on the ground,” Mr. Gunness concluded.
“UNRWA and its partners stand ready to continue providing humanitarian assistance to civilians inside Yarmouk and to those who may be displaced from Yarmouk as a result of the ongoing armed violence.”