Syria Crisis Response Update (Issue 75) , 23 May 2014

Biweekly Update for UNRWA Donors

More than half a million Palestine refugees are affected directly by the conflict in Syria. The UNRWA response to the crisis aims to maintain access to UNRWA services and preserve refugees' resilience through targeted relief. For a more detailed overview, see the Agency's 2014 regional response plan here. This biweekly update covers UNRWA's efforts from 28 April to 18 May.

Highlights

The new UNRWA Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, paid his first official visit to Syria. He said: “As another generation of Palestinians experiences the trauma of displacement, their situation has become, in human terms, nothing short of catastrophic. Yet it is often being overlooked. … I intend not only to work with you to improve services, but also to speak publicly about the rights of Palestine refugees including their right to a just and lasting solution.” Uninterrupted distribution of food, medical and other supplies to civilians in Yarmouk and several other embattled locations is the UNRWA “critical imperative”. The full statement can be read here.

After visiting Syria, the Commissioner-General visited Lebanon, where he met with PRS families in the camp of Burj Barajneh. The CG also met with Lebanese officials, including the president, the prime minister, the minister of interior and the foreign minister. The CG raised with them the Agency’s deep concerns over the increased restrictions on PRS entry to Lebanon that were introduced on the borders on 3 May, and were addressed in the public UNRWA statement issued on 6 May. UNRWA continues to follow up on this issue and the related restrictions on PRS visa renewals with the Lebanese authorities. UNRWA appreciates that a country of just 4 million people taking in a further 1 million people – 52,000 of them Palestinians – in three years is a great burden. We support calls by the Lebanese government on UN Member States to be as generous as possible.

UNRWA is preparing to restore services in Qabr Essit, an UNRWA camp 15km from Damascus. The camp has remained relatively calm since October 2013 and is currently accessible. The health centre is operational and UNRWA is repairing the community centre for use. A critical and currently unfunded investment is the reconstruction of a heavily damaged UNRWA school and repair of a moderately damaged UNRWA school. This semester, classes were given to UNRWA students in three alternative locations. Qabr Essit was established in 1948 and housed around 23,700 Palestine refugees before the camp was emptied as a result of the current crisis.

Food distribution in Yarmouk has not been possible since sniper fire killed two government military personnel in Yarmouk on 13 May. UNRWA is urgently seeking permission from the authorities to resume its operations. Before that date, parcels were distributed to 3,875 civilian families. UNRWA estimates that less than 25 per cent of the minimum food needs of civilians in Yarmouk were met since first accessing the area in January. Meanwhile, 120 ninth-grade students were allowed to temporarily leave Yarmouk, and 49 PRS students brought from Lebanon, to participate in Syrian nationwide exams.