Sporadic reports coming out of Syria continue to paint a dire picture of the situation of Palestinian refugees in Latakia refugee camp which has been hit by fire from ground forces and from gunboats in the past few days. A number of Palestinians are reported to have been killed, although the lack of reliable access to the area means that the true figure remains unknown. An estimated 7,500 refugees have fled the camp as a result of fighting.
Latakia camp, an unofficial refugee camp housing nearly 11,000 residents, was established in 1952 and covers an area of 22,000 square meters. The majority of the camp's residents are from Haifa or from villages in the northern area of Palestine that became Israel in 1948. UNRWA runs a number of facilities in the camp including 4 schools, a food distribution center and a health center.
In a statement, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said “Many people around the world were shocked by the images of unarmed refugees being shot at as they fled from their homes, amid the firing on their refugee camp.” 6,000 of the 7,500 refugees displaced by the fighting have now been located by UNRWA and are being assisted with cash grants for food, medicine and accommodation. UNRWA is also providing assistance to Palestinian refugees in other parts of the country.
Refugees are reported to be too frightened to return to the camp and many, particularly children and women, are traumatized and in a poor condition. According to Gunness, “UNRWA has not had access - draw your own conclusions about what that means about the security situation there and the state of the camp.”
This morning, credible sources describe seeing members of the Syrian military cleaning blood from the walls of the refugee camp in an attempt to cover up the extent of the casualties. These reports come just one day before an expected visit by a cross-agency UN Humanitarian Mission to Syria and appear to have been taken with a view to removing any evidence of what has taken place prior to the arrival of the Mission.
BADIL is gravely concerned about the plight of Palestinian refugees in Latakia and calls for the immediate cessation of any attacks on the camp and demand that immediate, unfettered humanitarian access be allowed.
BADIL demands full transparency and accountability for recent events in Latakia camp, in accordance with international law. There must be a credible and independent investigation, in line with international standards, into allegations that crimes against humanity have been committed.
BADIL is calling on:
The head of the forthcoming UN Humanitarian Mission to Syria, Mr. Rashid Khalikov to:
Ensure that the Mission visits all refugee camps affected by the recent fighting, particularly Latakia, and that the necessary humanitarian aid be provided in consultation with Palestinian refugees.
The Arab League to:
To establish a permanent follow-up committee to improve and ensure the effective protection of Palestinian refugees in states under the 1965 Casablanca Protocol and the fulfillment of the obligations of Arab host countries under customary international law and the human rights treaties to which they are signatories.
The Government of Syria to:
Immediately cease any attacks on Palestinian refugee camps, allow Palestinian refugees to return to the camps and to assist in repairing any damage to their homes and livelihoods.
The PLO to:
Call, in coordination with the Arab League and other relevant international partners, for the necessary measures to be taken to reactivate the dormant UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) mandated to provide Palestinian refugees with effective protection and assistance in implementing Palestinian refugees' right of return under UN Resolution 194.