This 2014 image of Palestinians queueing for food pushed Yarmouk to the centre of global attention (UNRWA)
Palestinian refugees and human rights groups continue to voice their firm rejection of the new organizational plan put forth by Damascus Governorate to rehabilitate Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian refugees, which has been subjected to massive destruction in the bloody conflict.
Tension has been running high in the area as thousands of refugees continue to rail against the proposed plan, amid growing fears that their homes and property will be removed from the new plan.
To file a complaint, the residents should carry a personal photo, a property ownership proof, and a stamp worth 700 Syrian pounds. Those living outside Syria are entitled to file complaints through their relatives, including fourth-degree relatives.
Governorate officials said the revision of the plan depends on the number of complaints.
Recently, the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS) has called on the Syrian authorities in Damascus to re-examine the new organizational plan and to rather implement the old plan which was approved in 2004.
In a statement issued sometime earlier, AGPS said plans that do not take into account Palestinians’ inalienable rights make part of underway conspiracies to further displace the Palestinian people and destroy displacement camps as living witnesses to their refugee plight.
The statement said the new organizational plan will remarkably change the demographic and architectural identity of the camp. Several buildings and facilities will be removed, which will lead to a mass displacement of refugee families and a further deterioration of their humanitarian condition.
Families displaced from Yarmouk Camp continue to appeal to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian political factions in Syria to take serious measures in order to facilitate their return to the camp, to pressurize the Syrian government to abandon the new organizational plan, and to rather work on preserving the demographic and historical idiosyncrasy of the shelter.
Activists warned that in case the plan is implemented, over half of the residents will not be able to return to their houses which they have been forced to abandon in the bloody warfare.
UN data indicates that before the eruption of the conflict in 2011, Yarmouk was home to approximately 160,000 Palestine refugees, making it the largest Palestine refugee community in Syria. Located eight kilometers from Damascus, it is one of three unofficial camps in Syria.
In December 2012, fierce clashes erupted in Yarmouk, causing numerous civilian casualties, severe damage to property and the displacement of thousands of Palestine refugees and Syrians. The camp was under siege from July 2013, drastically restricting the entry of commercial and humanitarian goods.
In April 2015, armed opposition groups captured over 60 per cent of the camp, containing over 90 per cent of the remaining civilian population. This not only made humanitarian organizations unable to carry out any distributions inside Yarmouk but also displaced most of the remaining 18,000 Palestine refugees and other civilians to the neighbouring areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham (YBB).
Almost all the remaining Palestine refugees left during the final government offensive for Yarmouk in April-May 2018, after which the government retook control of the camp.
UNRWA was able to return to the camp to conduct a needs assessment in October 2018. Of the 23 UNRWA premises in the camp and nearby Hajjar al Aswad, including 16 school buildings, all have been affected by the conflict.
Yarmouk was established in 1957. It occupies an area of 2.1 square kilometres to accommodate refugees who were scattering in mosques, schools and other public places. Over the years, the refugees improved their shelters and added more rooms to them. Before the conflict, the camp was crowded with cement block homes, and densely populated. Three main roads lined with shops and crammed with service taxis and microbuses ran through Yarmouk.
Now the camp is largely destroyed and contains just a few dozen families. These are mostly elderly Palestine refugees, who stayed throughout the siege and conflict. The Syrian government has indicated that Palestine refugees will be allowed to return to the camp in future.