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'It's like the appearance of ghosts'

UNRWA Commissioner-General describes Yarmouk refugee camp and welcomes last week's UN Security Council resolution calling for immediate access for humanitarian aid to all areas of Syria.

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Beirut: Scared and desperate, their bodies ravaged with hunger, a heartbreaking tide of people  crowds into the space between the devastated buildings of Yarmouk in Syria in the hope they will receive a UN food parcel that will stave off death for another week.

Many have already starved to death in Yarmouk, once home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and an unknown number of Syrians. After three years of war, that number has dwindled to around 18,000, the United Nations says, with many fleeing to other countries or displaced within Syria itself.

On the outskirts of Syria’s capital, Damascus, Yarmouk has been under  bombardment for almost a year, its residents hiding in rubble as aid groups struggle to negotiate access to the area.

Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus.

Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus. Photo: Reuters

Since January 19, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has managed to enter Yarmouk several times, distributing 7493 food parcels that can feed a family of between five and eight for 10 days.

They acknowledge most of that food will have already been eaten, a drop in the ocean of need for the thousands suffering malnourishment, disease and unrelenting fear.

This photograph, taken on January 31 and released by UNRWA on Wednesday, shows the grim reality for those trapped inside the neighbourhood.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi visited Yarmouk this week and described it as “a ghost town . . .  there is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now”.

But what was most shocking, Mr Grandi said, was the people.

“The people coming from within Yarmouk appear suddenly near this distribution point. It’s like the appearance of ghosts. These are people … that have been trapped in there not only without food, medicines, clean water – all the basics – but also probably completely subjected to fear because there was fierce fighting.

“They all tell the same stories of complete deprivation.”

Mr Grandi said the latest United Nations Security Council resolution on the provision of humanitarian aid to Syria underscored the importance of all groups in the armed conflict allowing aid organisations to reach desperate populations.

“This cannot be intermittent, because hunger is not intermittent. This has to be daily, it has to be more expanded . . . and eventually all of our services have to be restored.”