In recent months and years, the name ‘Yarmouk’ has come to be a byword for suffering. A Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus, its population has variously been ignored, starved, bombed and fought over.
The Assad regime has made life for Yarmourk residents intolerable, and yet they are not the only group responsible for a situation which seems emblematic of the worst excesses of this bloody conflict.
Although officially a refugee camp, Yarmouk is a huge site and over years has grown into something more recognisable as a town, at its peak housing over 150,000 people. Images from Yarmouk today show a place which looks as if it has suffered a natural disaster on a massive scale – such as through a catastrophic earthquake or tsunami.
A further and rapid deterioration in the situation has resulted from an attack on the camp by fighters from ISIS, commonly known in the region as ‘Da’esh’. Clashing with other groups and preying like parasites on the suffering of refugees, ISIS have done nothing but compound the misery of a highly vulnerable population. Reports suggest the group may now have withdrawn in favour of other armed groups, yet the threat they pose remains, and the situation for civilians in the camp is dire.
As if this were not enough, Assad’s forces are reported in turn to have increased their bombardment of the area. The Red Crescent has denounced the targeting of medical staff in the camp, while the United Nations has appealed for all sides to cease the fighting, but this has consistently gone ignored.
Caught in-between the Assad regime, ISIS and various other militant factions, the men, women, children of Yarmouk have struggled to meet their basic needs; pawns in a fight between groups which have no interest in their well-being or future. While, thousands of residents have been forced to try and leave the camp, ISIS has attacked civilians. There are reports that they shot and killed a 13 year-old girl trying to escape to safety. Some have managed to flee, escaping the Assad bombs and ISIS death squads, yet these people are now refugees twice or even three times over.
Aid agencies have done incredible work in recent years to keep supplies flowing into some of the hardest-hit areas of Syria, in exceptionally difficult circumstances. Their jobs are made harder by interference from the regime and ISIS, who are known to have disrupted delivery of aid for those most in need.
The families for whom Yarmouk had become home face an absolutely desperate situation. No one with any humanity could fail to be moved by what is happening here and we must hope that aid agencies can gain access again and save the lives of those who remain in Yarmouk. It is incumbent upon those of us who wish to help people in Syria to volunteer their efforts through established humanitarian organisations, and to raise funds at home for registered charities that are undertaking relief efforts.
Yarmouk has become a terrible microcosm of Syria. People in need of sanctuary and support have instead found themselves at the mercy of those whose only interests are power. Ultimately, an end to their suffering can only lie in genuine humanitarian and diplomatic efforts. Only then can Yarmouk be delivered from the twin evils of ISIS and the Assad regime.