NRC head urges regional cooperation on Yarmouk crisis

TEHRAN, Apr. 26 (MNA) – In an interview to Mehr News, Secretary General of NRC Jan Egeland has described the dire situation in Syria's Yarmouk refugee camp urging regional countries to work together to lessen conflict in Syria. 

Seven kilometres south of Damascus lies the biggest refugee camp in Syria which was home to 160,000 Palestinians before the Syrian civil war began in 2011. The Yarmouk refugee camp has now turned into a ghost town and nightmarish prison as a result of the violent attacks by anti-government militants over the past four years of conflict in Syria. The Syrian government says only 6,000 remain in the camp and they are in dire need of humanitarian aid and an immediate ceasefire. We have reached Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland to bring the horrid situation of the Palestinian refugees more into the world’s consciousness.

Here is the full text of the interview:


The Yarmouk camp in the Syrian capital Damascus that shelters Palestinians refugees was originally a safe haven but now under siege from ISIL terrorists and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front has become a nightmarish prison for its remaining residents. How severe is the situation?

Yarmouk may well be the worst place in the world right now. The camp has for a long time, long before ISIL and al Nusra attacked, been besieged and people in the camp have had limited access to humanitarian aid. Civilians are saying that they have been forced to eat bark and grass to survive. The recent escalation of conflict in the camp caused many to try to flee their homes in Yarmouk. NRC is extremely concerned for the remaining 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians in the camp, including 3,500 children. They live in the ruins of the camp, without any health facilities, sufficient food and clean water. The UN recently revised up the figures of people trapped in Yarmouk to more than 400,000.


The reports indicate the food delivery to thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria in need of assistance are not enough and the deliveries are often cut by the fighting. What are the ways international humanitarian organizations can bring in food and medical supplies with more ease?

The civilians in Yarmouk are in urgent need of life-saving assistance. The UN Security Council called this week for all parties to the Syrian civil war to allow humanitarian aid to reach Yarmouk. The civilians have a right to unhindered and safe access to humanitarian assistance. In addition, there is a need to ensure that those who want to temporarily relocate from the camp, can do so safely.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has called for a pause in the fighting so that civilians can get out of Yarmouk; on the other hand, the reports say large majority of Palestinians who have tried to cross into Lebanon from Syria have been denied entry. Has there been any movement to make the UN’s call for a ceasefire happen? And is there a way for the international community to make countries such as Lebanon not to have a total closure of the border for Palestine refugees coming from Syria?

I appeal to Iran as well as to Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Turkey to work together to de-escalate the conflict and push their allies in Syria to respect civilians.

This latest crisis in Yarmouk is also a new grim reminder of how important it is for those in risk of violence and persecution to be able to seek safety. Most Palestinians from Syria trying to find safety in Lebanon have been effectively denied entry since May 2014, because it has become almost impossible for them to fulfil the onerous entry requirements. The Palestinians from Syria also face challenges in accessing several of the other countries in the region.

All countries in the region need to keep their borders open for men, women and children fleeing violence in Syria and seeking protection. However, the international community also need to increase their support to the region, both in terms of financial contributions and by accepting more refugees for resettlement. We cannot expect the neighbouring countries to be able to cope with the large refugee influx on their own.


UNRWA is seeking an immediate injection of US $30 million to provide life-sustaining assistance to the 18,000 civilians from Yarmouk, including 3,500 children. What countries are expected to step in for help? How does the prospect for receiving this major increase in funding look?

Wealthy countries need to significantly increase their support, both to cover life-saving assistance to the 18,000 civilians in Yarmouk, but also to cover the much larger appeals for assistance to the more than 16 million people in need inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. Last year’s appeals for Syria were only 58% funded, which led to cuts in the assistance to Syrian civilians. We need to ensure that more aid is being delivered to people in need inside Syria and neighbouring countries. They need access to food, water, shelter and medical services – but we should also provide education for their children and hope for the future.  

Yarmouk has been cut off from the world for almost two years, and then it came under heavy assault by the ISIL terrorist groups. How come the UN has become so incompetent in protecting the lives of innocent civilians? Is there really no such a way of putting an immediate definite stop to the severe suffering of the trapped civilians there?

The brutal war in Syria has revealed the shortcomings of the UN Security Council. A recent report from the Norwegian Refugee Council and several other organizations detailed how the Security Council has failed to implement a series of resolutions last year, which were meant to secure civilians in Syria, protection and access to assistance.

Powerful countries need to stop fuelling the conflict, and push the warring parties towards a political solution. The following countries have a particular responsibility to work together for peace: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and the United States.   

The only way of putting a stop to the continuing suffering of civilians is if parties to the conflict and countries in the region with influence can enter into discussions on how to bring about an end to the war. In the immediate future, ceasefires and pauses in fighting to ensure secure access for humanitarian agencies is a must.


Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Norway’s largest humanitarian NGO with more than 5,000 employees. He is responsible for the organization’s activities in more than 20 countries. As UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator from 2003 to 2006, Egeland helped reform the global humanitarian response system and organized the international response to the Asian Tsunami, and crises from Darfur to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to Lebanon. In 2006, Time magazine named him one of the 100 “people who shape our world.”


Interview by Marjohn Sheikhi




News Code 106822

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