Hundreds of men, women and children fight to get to the front of the queue as a refugee camp in Damascus receives food parcels after being cut off for months.

Today the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) called on rebel forces and Al-Assad’s troops alike to allow ‘safe and unhindered humanitarian access’ to thousands of civilians in Yarmouk, a Palestinian district in the Syrian capital.

Yarmouk has seen some of the worst fighting in the capital, leading to severe food shortages and widespread hunger.

 
Hour of need: Residents of Syria's besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, crowding a destroyed street during a food distribution led by the UN agency

Hour of need: Residents of Syria’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, crowding a destroyed street during a food distribution led by the UN agency.

UNWRA chief Chris Gunnes spoke today after a rare visit to Yarmouk on Monday where relief agencies have found it particularly difficult to provide food and medical assistance.

The Yarmouk Camp is a 0.8sq.mi. district of Damascus populated by more than 112,000 Palestinian refugees, who are mainly cut off from any foreign help.

Yarmouk Camp has been sealed since July 2013, resulting in acute and widespread deprivation, including severe malnutrition, while civilian residents are constantly exposed to the threat of death, injuries and trauma of the armed conflict.

The UN was given access to the camp by the Syrian authorities late January, which is when the photograph was taken.

However, following clashes in northern Yarmouk earlier this month, UNRWA said distribution of food parcels and medical supplies may be suspended yet again.

Christopher Gunness, from UNRWA, said: ‘It is impossible not to be touched by the apocalyptic scenes emerging from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, besieged and cut off for months. 

The images are at once epic and personal. Row upon row of gaunt faces, serried ranks of grimy, raged figures; the delicate, hunger-ravaged features of children waiting in line for an UNRWA food parcel; the face of a mother creased in grief for a deceased child; tears of joy as a father is reunited with a long-lost daughter.

‘These are the vignettes of inhumanity that have become the regular fare of nightly news bulletins. They are UNRWA’s daily reality.’

The reports of humanitarian crisis came as more than 175 rebels and foreign fighters, including ‘Saudis, Qataris and Chechens,’ were killed Wednesday in a Syrian army ambush near Damascus, state news agency SANA reported.

It said an army unit ‘spotted Al-Nusra Front (jihadist) and Liwa al-Islam (Islamist) terrorists’ near Damascus, and ‘killed 175 of them and wounded several others.’

Yesterday the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned that Syrians could soon overtake Afghans as the world’s biggest refugee population.

No aid: Following months of starvation and battle, Palestinian residents wait for a United Nations aid ambulance in Yarmouk, Damascus

No aid: Following months of starvation and battle, Palestinian residents wait for a United Nations aid ambulance in Yarmouk, Damascus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The organisation is predicting that the number of displaced Syrians will pass four million by the end of 2014.

Opposition activists say more than 140,000 people have died in the conflict, which enters its fourth year next month. The U.N. says 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.The number of Afghan refugees was 2.6 million at the end of 2012, UNHCR says.

Syrians, with nearly 2.5 million registered as refugees, should overtake that long before the end of the year. About one-half of the refugees are children.

‘It breaks my heart to see this nation that for decades welcomed refugees from other countries ripped apart and forced into exile itself,’ Guterres told the U.N. General Assembly. Just five years ago, Syria hosted the world’s second-largest number of refugees, he said.

Syria’s neighbors now plead for assistance as hundreds or thousands of people flee into their countries every day.

The number of Syrian refugees now registered in far smaller Lebanon, for example, is the equivalent of having 71 million of them registered in the United States or almost 15 million in France, Guterres said.

 

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