Palestine refugees face ‘dire’ humanitarian conditions amid ongoing clashes in southern Syria: UNRWA

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Some 30,000 Palestine refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in south Syria have become increasingly vulnerable, following recent clashes in and around the Dera’a Governorate, the UN agency warned on Sunday.

Heavy shelling and clashes since 29 July have caused loss of life, injury and the displacement of many hundreds of vulnerable families. According to the UN agency, which was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, around one-third of Palestine refugees used to reside in the Dera’a camp before the conflict.

Recently, a small number of Palestine refugees have returned to the camp, due to a lack of alternatives, the UNRWA said. However, these latest hostilities have dramatically reduced its ability to provide critical services to a very vulnerable community, the agency warned. 

‘Dire’ humanitarian conditions

More than 600 Palestine refugee families (3,000 individuals) now reside in the camp area, with more than half the families living inside the camp, displaced due to the recent clashes. The humanitarian conditions of families remaining inside the camp are dire, the UNRWA warned.

Medication and food stocks, including bread, have been depleted since 2 August, following the closure of the main humanitarian crossing Saraya on 30 July. Water and electricity are also said to be completely cut off inside the camp. Palestine refugees who live in western Dera’a also have limited access to UNRWA services as increased clashes there led to the closure of the UNRWA health clinic in Muzeirib on 1 August. 

Immense humanitarian needs

Meanwhile, the demand for emergency food and non-food items and the increased risks of contamination by explosive remnants of war means the humanitarian needs for displaced families ‘are immense.’

Often, they are forced to move in with relatives, adding to their burden and increasing the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19, the UN agency noted, adding that most families are struggling to pay rent or live in homes that have been damaged or partially destroyed by hostilities over the last decade.

The ability of Palestine refugees to move out of Dera’a camp has been severely impacted by the clashes, and their access to UNRWA services, such as food and cash, which are usually available in Dera’a city has been limited. The current situation has also delayed the work needed to prepare for children to return to UNRWA schools. The agency says it is also concerned for the safety of its staff working in Dera’a Governorate.

Calls for unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance

UNRWA has called for all parties to the conflict to ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance into the area, including access to UNRWA services. It said the Saraya crossing point, which allows the passage of people and goods, must remain open to allow Palestine refugees’ access to basic services.

All parties must protect civilians and safeguard civilian infrastructure, including UNRWA installations in Dera’a Governorate, it added.

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