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Yarmouk crisis: international community has 'compelling imperative to act,' says UN official

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UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl (centre) speaks to the press during a visit to Yarmouk Syria. © Photo: UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammed

13 April 2015 – The thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees trapped in the Yarmouk refugee camp have suffered “untold indignities” amid intensifying hostilities between armed groups in the area, the United Nations agency concerned with the well-being of Palestinian refugees declared today.

“We can all agree that peaceful options for resolving the Yarmouk crisis will provide the optimal solution right now for the protection of the civilians,” Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said during the second day of his visit to the Syrian capital, Damascus, where Yarmouk is located.

“I call on all sides to respect the beleaguered civilians trapped inside Yarmouk,” he added.

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.

Over the weekend, Mr. Krähenbühl visited Yarmouk to get a sense of the situation in the camp, hear from refugees affected by the crisis, and consult with leaders on funnel aid to people in need.

In his statement released earlier today, he reiterated the need to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the civilians inside the refugee camp and added that his meeting with officials from the Syrian Government had offered “some grounds for optimism.”

“However there is much more work that needs to be done and I shall be following up today with senior government counterparts on the issue of humanitarian access,” the UN official admitted.

Pointing to his personal interactions with refugees affected by the crisis in Yarmouk, the UNRWA chief said he was “deeply moved” by the tales of those who had been forced to flee fierce fighting in and around the camp and whose resilience and dignity were “truly humbling.”

“It is the human dimension that must motivate the international system at every level and which provides the most compelling imperative to act,” Mr. Krähenbühl concluded.

“The Syria conflict has a human face. These are individuals with a dignity and destiny that must be at the centre of our responses as we grapple with the complexities of protecting civilians, in Yarmouk and beyond.”