Palestinian refugees in Syria becoming ‘an imperilled community’ — UNRWA

17-06-2013 03:32 PM

Ammon News - by Laila Azzeh/ Jordan Times

AMMAN — The situation in Syria dominated the agenda of the UNRWA advisory commission’s meetings on Sunday, with the agency warning that the Palestinian refugees in Syria are about to become an “imperilled” community.

Speakers at the opening of the meetings, held in Amman, highlighted that the Syrian crisis brings to attention the consequences of leaving the issue of Palestinian refugees unresolved, particularly as their sensitive situation as guests intensifies in times of crisis.

Although some Palestinians have been involved in the fighting in Syria, the overwhelming majority of refugees long to be left in peace during the conflict in a country where they have been generously hosted for 65 years, according to UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi.

“However, we have witnessed instances in which armed groups have entered refugee camps, drawing government fire,” he said.

“In Homs, Palestinians displaced from the north, where the situation is especially precarious, told me stories of entire communities forcibly displaced by armed groups from their homes…,” Grandi added at the opening session.

He noted that thousands of Palestinians are now displaced from the Yarmouk camp in Damascus and are living in tents at UNRWA schools, where they still hear the rumble of shelling.

Detailing the hardships faced by the refugees in Syria, Grandi said seven out of 12 camps have become “theatres” of war and are now virtually inaccessible to UNRWA.

In addition, more than half of the 530,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria are believed to be displaced, while 15 per cent have fled abroad, including over 60,000 to Lebanon and over 7,000 to Jordan, according to the UN official, who noted that killings, kidnapping, poverty, destruction and fear have become part of their daily lives.

“UNRWA’s ability to assist Palestine refugees in emergency situations is a significant dimension of our mandate and a proven feature of our operational strength.

“However, given the context of conflict and political failure in which we operate, emergencies tend to last, and ultimately drain energy and resources from our human development work,” he indicated.

Grandi cited the aid appeal the agency launched earlier this year for $200 million from donor countries.

Meanwhile, UNRWA’s field director in Syria, Michael Kingsley, said the agency is contacting concerned parties in Syria, including the government, to “neutralise” the refugees from the conflict.

At a press conference following the meetings, he noted that although the vast majority of deaths are among Syrians, Palestinians suffer from a “unique” kind of vulnerability, making them more exposed.

Asked which party is targeting the refugees in Syria, Kingsley stressed that UNRWA’s role is to help the people and not to ask such questions.

“However, both sides in the conflict have been engaged in the destruction of the camps,” he said.

Despite disagreeing with Jordan’s decision not to receive Palestinian refugees from Syria, Grandi said he respects it, as it is an attempt to mitigate the pressure placed on the country’s scarce resources and jobs in light of the influx of the large number of Syrian refugees.

Speakers at the opening session voiced concern over the deteriorating situation in Syria and the ability of the agency to continue its mandate.

Turning to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, the delegates highlighted that the Israeli occupation remains the main reason behind the instability in the region, calling for launching meaningful and effective peace talks.

During the two-day commission meetings, directors from the agency’s five fields of operations are holding closed-door discussions on the situation in their respective areas.

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