A woman washes the hair of a child in a displacement camp in Syria. (Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa)
For the last ten years, Syria has been devastated by prolonged conflict, destroying countless lives and displacing millions.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Palestinian refugees, already displaced, have been among the worst affected by the crisis. Each displacement triggered by the conflict follows an earlier displacement -- the first generation of Palestine refugees in Syria originally fled from northern Palestine in 1948. Others came from the Golan Heights in 1967 and Lebanon at the height of the civil war in 1982.
UNRWA data indicates that 135,000 Palestine refugees belong to the most vulnerable categories such as households with a single female or older person at the head, persons with disabilities, or orphans and unaccompanied minors.
Over half of the Palestine refugees in the country have been displaced at least once because of the brutal conflict that ensued, including 120,000 who have sought safety in neighbouring countries, mainly Lebanon and Jordan, and beyond.
Once a vibrant community of over 550,000 people, Palestinians had come to Syria in two main waves in 1948 and 1967 to settle in 12 camps across the country. Yarmouk, the most famous of the Palestine refugee camps, became known as “the capital of Palestine refugees.”
UNRWA is the main provider of humanitarian assistance and basic services to 438,000 Palestine refugees who remain in Syria – 91 per cent of whom live in absolute poverty - and who have been among those worst affected by the conflict.
“As a Palestine refugee, you are already born with a tag that says “displaced”, said UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini. “If you are a Palestine refugee in Syria, then you are at least doubly displaced and most likely living in extreme hardship.”
Since the start of the conflict, many UNRWA installations inside Syria, such as schools and health centers, have become inaccessible or sustained severe damage. Forty per cent of UNRWA classrooms have been lost and almost 25 per cent of the Agency’s health centres are currently unusable due to the conflict. UNRWA in Syria has also lost 19 staff members during the 10-year conflict.
“The daunting images of destruction in Yarmouk camp remain with me, even a few months after I visited Syria,” said Lazzarini. “Children in pink and blue school uniforms stepping out of the rubble to get on a school bus was a surreal sight.”