7 Apr 2015

Yarmouk: inside the Syrian refugee camp under siege by Isis

Yarmouk in Syria is “beyond inhumane” – according to a United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesperson – but how much do we know about the Palestinian refugee camp?

Chris Gunness, from the UNRWA, on Monday called for a “political framework” to solve the crisis and allow humanitarian aid to be delivered on the ground.

He also stressed that about “18,000 people, including 3,500 children are at risk of death or being manned and of serious injury.”

The United Nations Security Council also condemned in the strongest terms the grave crimes committed by Islamic State fighters and Al-Nusra Front against civilians.

The Palestinian UN ambassador, Riyad Mansour, also said the number of Palestinians living in Yarmouk had already dwindled from more than 150,000 to 18,000 residents.

Refugee camp

Yarmouk was established in 1957. The camp is located on the southern outskirts of Damascus and occupies an area of 2.1 square kilometres to accommodate refugees who were scattering in mosques, schools and other public places.

  • 18,000 refugees
  • 28 double-shift schools
  • One food distribution centre
  • Three health centres
  • Two community centres

Over the years, the refugees have improved their shelters and added more rooms to them. Today, however, the camp is crowded with cement block homes, and is densely populated. Three main roads lined with shops and crammed with service taxis and microbuses run through Yarmouk.

Many of the refugees in Yarmouk are professional, working as doctors, engineers and civil servants. Others are employed as casual labourers and street vendors.

In 2014, UNRWA was able to distribute food in Yarmouk on only 131 days, averaging 89 boxes per day over the year. To meet the minimum needs of the people, UNRWA must distribute at least 400 food boxes each day. They say children inside the camp are suffering from malnutrition.

As well as a shortage of food and medical supplies, Yarmouk faces the following problems:

  • Air pollution
  • Domestic violence
  • High rate of drug addiction
  • Increasing rate of child labour
  • Deplorable and hazardous shelters
  • Living costs disproportionate to income
  • High rate of early marriage and divorce
  • Increasing rate of early school dropouts
  • Lack of environmental health awareness
  • Lack of potable water in certain areas of the camp
  • High unemployment rate and lack of job opportunities
  • Health problems caused by economic and psychological pressure

Barrel bombs

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, five explosive barrels fell on al-Oroba and al-Mansoura streets in the Yarmouk camp on Tuesday. The observatory say 25 barrel bombs have fallen on Yarmouk in the last three days.


About half of the 560,000 Palestine refugees registered in Syria are said to have been internally displaced, losing their homes, livelihoods and communities. An additional 80,000 have fled to neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza, where they face discrimination and uncertain legal status.

Over 95 per cent of the refugees remaining in Syria now rely on UNRWA for their basic humanitarian needs, including food, cash, health care and education.

In 2014, EU funding provided more than 35,500 families (over 143,000 individuals) with cash support, and allowed UNRWA to distribute food parcels to more than 40,900 Palestine refugee families (163,652 individuals) across Syria.

  • 560,000 Palestine refugees in Syria
  • 280,000 displaced inside Syria
  • 80,000 to other countries

Last year, United Nations aid workers appealed for international help to gain access to the Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, where thousands are facing starvation.