Lifting the siege of Yarmouk one food parcel & one polio vaccination at a time
Yarmouk Palestinian camp, Damascus
As of 2/6/14 it's been seven days since the first humanitarian aid, generally in the form of 56 lb. food parcels packed by UNWRA, the World Food Program, the ICRC or European aid organizations have been able to enter Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp following half a dozen aborted attempts the past few months by various militia and political groups to achieve consensus to deliver aid. The aid parcels, including two kilos of rice, two kilos sugar, three kilos lentils, three kilos dry macaroni, plus flour, jam, tea, oil, and sweet Halawi spread are intended to feed a family of five to eight for ten days. The boxes have been trickling into the South side of the Yarmouk Palestinian camp and up along Rima Street where this observer has seen crowds this past week tensely waiting and hoping for food and clean water. For some camp residents the wait for relief began in June of 2013 when all entrances and exits to Yarmouk camp were cut.
Up to this morning, approximately 5,300 food parcels have been allowed into Yarmouk or an average of 800-1,000 food packages daily. Aid has been entering sporadically and sometimes chaotically, with perceptible but slight increases over the past week.
A large yellow flat-bed truck arrived on the morning of 2/5/14 and this observer watched as food parcels were off-loaded and neatly stacked into six white pick-up trucks that were then driven into Yarmouk under the watchful gaze of pro and anti-regime forces and security agents. According to one source from South Beirut who this observer had met earlier, Jabhat al Nusra, Jabhat Islam, Daash and Jund al Cham snipers could be observed on rooftops monitoring the distribution activity with their eyes pressed against their rifle scopes. One SARCS volunteer who this observer has known for two years advised that she feared there might be a shootout between these fighters and nearby Palestinian forces allied with the government (Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-GC) suspected Hezbollah fighters with hand radio phones who were watching and seemingly discussing the events. Frankly, for this observer, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish which group which around here is given the proliferation of fighters with beards and essentially indistinguishable attire.
For many food parcel recipients, their first act is to open the jar of jam inside the cardboard box and scoop the confections into the mouths of their children or the nearby infirm refugees, usually elderly. On 2/6/14, UNWRA also started a polio vaccination program, its first in Yarmouk and which is urgently needed by thousands of trapped camp residents. Ten thousand dosages of polio vaccines are being allowed into the camp with vaccinations currently underway for the second day running.
In addition to the so far paltry amount of food allowed into the camp, approximately 1,600 people have been allowed to leave Yarmouk for medical treatment. Young Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) volunteers, wearing shirts with large Red Crosses can be seen trickling out from the besieged camp this morning. Invariably holding the hands, arms, or shoulders of those who could walk the 50 yards to waiting ambulances that will evacuate and transport these patients, suffering the effects of starvation including muscle atrophy and dehydration. Most will be taken to the PCRS Jaffa hospital two kilometers away. Others are being transferred to Syrian government hospitals in Mazah, in central Damascus, including al-Mujtahed, al-Muwasat, al-Tawleed and children hospital.
This observer mingled for a couple of hours among the approximately 250 family members of trapped refugees, many of whom appear daily outside the only exit from Yarmouk camp, hoping that a relative might be allowed to leave. One elderly lady, maybe in her late sixties, explained to this observer that every day for the past seven months, i.e. since the tight siege of Yarmouk began last June, she has stood in the same location waiting for her son Mahmoud to come to her from inside besieged Yarmouk. She has no idea if he is alive but she explained to me that she believes that God will deliver him safely to her.