April 2015: APAN shares its condolences to all people affected by the ongoing horrors at the Yarmouk Refugee camp, and calls on the Australian Government to join calls for humanitarian aid to enter and people being able to evacuate from the camp.

The forgotten Palestinians: The disaster of Yarmouk Refugee Camp

Conditions in Yarmouk refugee camp have been described this week by senior UN staff as a “hell hole”, “beyond inhumane”, a “catastrophic humanitarian situation” with “scenes of unbearable suffering”. This week ISIS have taken over most of the camp where they have beheaded and arrested people who don’t agree with them. Meanwhile, the Syrian Army has dropped barrel bombs over this heavily populated 2 square km area. No aid can get in because the camp is surrounded by warring militias, and almost no one can get out.

Just five years ago, Yarmouk was a thriving suburb of Damascus, with at least 148,500 registered Palestinian refugees living within it. It was the largest and many say ‘best’ refugee camp in all of Syria. It had many health and educational facilities, including a kindergarten built by Australia.   While residents didn’t have full citizenship rights, many had become professionals, and life was manageable.

The camp had been established for Palestinian refugees who had been expelled from or fled their homes due to the actions of the militia groups supporting the establishment of Israel.   For sixty-seven years, Palestinians (whose welfare was recognised as an international responsibility through the establishment of the UN Relief and Works Agency) sought to build new lives for themselves in Syria, waiting for their dream of returning to Palestine to be realised.

Instead they have a nightmare. For the last two years, Yarmouk has been under siege by the Syrian government, leading to starvation and disease. The camp has also been a site for fighting between parties struggling for control of Syria. The camp lies in tatters, and there are only an estimated 18,000 people remaining.

Because of their status as Palestinian refugees they have faced many more difficulties being able to find refuge in other countries than Syrians who have been able to do.

A year ago a video from Yarmouk went viral. It was of six men singing around a battered piano amidst the bombed out buildings and rubble of their community. They call out Oh displaced people, return. The journey has gone for too long.

The international community, who are still responsible for the welfare of the Palestinians in the camp, need to insist on immediate access to humanitarian supplies and the option of safe passage out of the camp. The Australian government has long been a supporter of UNRWA’s activities and should join the chorus of international voices calling for action to protect vulnerable civilians of this conflict.   However the situation of the Palestinians in Yarmouk underscores the need for a solution where Palestinians have a state to return to.