Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Conflict in Syria Compounds Vulnerability of Palestine Refugees

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Conflict in Syria Compounds Vulnerability of Palestine Refugees

Article excerpt

Palestine refugees in Syria find themselves once more engulfed in a cycle of conflict and displacement that exacerbates their underlying vulnerability and highlights the ongoing need for durable solutions.

Before the outbreak of conflict, Syria was generally seen to afford the best conditions for Palestine refugees among the nations of the Middle East. Palestinians benefited from relative freedoms, including access to social services provided by the government. Nonetheless, development indicators reflect a socioeconomic frailty compared with the wider Syrian population.

Of the 12 longestablished Palestine refugee camps in Syria supported by UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), seven of the camps - largely in and around Damascus in the south and Aleppo in the north - are now caught up in the conflict. The vast majority of the some 529,000 Palestine refugees registered in the country have been directly affected by the unfolding violence. Armed clashes and the use of heavy weapons in and around these camps have resulted in extensive damage to homes, schools, health centres and the administrative infrastructure, and scores of Palestine refugees, together with eight UNRWA staff, have lost their lives.

In response, UNRWA is providing cash assistance, food aid, non-food items, water and sanitation services, emergency health and education, shelter and protection for Palestine refugees, safety and security for UNRWA staff, and emergency repair of existing infrastructure. Seeking to ensure continuity of education for the 67,000 students enrolled in UNRWA's school system in Syria, the Agency has designated alternative safe learning zones including the temporary use of state schools on a second-shift basis; employed distance learning materials; developed virtual classes for its digital television channel; and integrated students fleeing Syria within its wider school system in neighbouring countries. And with the temporary closure of a number of its 23 primary healthcare centres due to their proximity to conflict, UNRWA has established new health points, relocating health services to newly displaced Palestine refugee populations.

Displaced again

Palestine refugees in Syria have been widely displaced. One of the most serious single incidents occurred in late April 2013 in Ein el Tal Camp in Aleppo, with the forced displacement of all 6,000 camp residents in a single day following months of sporadic armed engagements. The population of Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus, which once numbered some 160,000, has dwindled to a mere 30,000 inhabitants following mass displacements in December 2012.

A total of 235,000 Palestine refugees are now internally displaced within Syria. Of those, 18,000 have sought refuge in other Palestinian refugee camps that for now afford a greater level of safety. But here, as around the world, UNRWA and other agencies such as UNHCR are not able to provide physical security and are reliant on the state (and other actors) to ensure the security of refugee camps. Horns Camp in central Syria, with an original camp population of 22,000 and now hosting 6,500 Palestinian IDPs from Aleppo, Damascus and the Horns countryside, finds itself on an emerging frontline between government and opposition forces, making further mass displacement likely. Of those displaced beyond Syria's borders, of 93,000 Palestine refugees from Syria who made themselves known to UNRWA in Lebanon, over 45,000 were consistently relying on the Agency's humanitarian services. …

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