100,000 Palestinians may have fled Damascus camp: UN

19th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

As many as 100,000 Palestinians may have fled a Damascus refugee camp after deadly clashes there, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Wednesday.

"People are still leaving in droves," UNRWA deputy chief of staff Lisa Gilliam told AFP, adding that the organisation estimated that around two thirds of the some 150,000 residents of Yarmuk camp appeared to have left.

She stressed that the 100,000 figure was only an estimate, adding that the violence in the camp in the south of the Syrian capital was "a humanitarian crisis that is still playing itself out".

On Sunday, warplanes waged their first air strike on Yarmuk since the start of Syria's conflict in March 2011, killing at least eight civilians.

Both rebels and pro-government fighters have since entered and fierce fighting has rocked the tiny camp.

The fleeing Palestinians were going to other parts of Damascus or further afield in Syria, taking shelter in schools and UNRWA offices, and were also increasingly fleeing across the border to Lebanon, Gilliam said.

"UNRWA and its partners are working around the clock to make sure they are housed and fed, but for the most part, we don't know where they are," she told reporters in Geneva.

Until this week, around 10,000 Palestinians had fled from Syria to Lebanon, but since the latest violence another 3,000 had crossed the border or were in the process of crossing, she said, adding that another 2,000 were likely to join them in coming days.

She called on all sides to respect the neutrality of the Palestinians in the Syrian civil war and called on neighbouring countries to allow fleeing Palestinians to enter.

The Palestinians, she said, "are historically a population that is targeted and scapegoated... They are an easy target",

"There cannot be enough grave warning as to what the consequences can be to their safety if all measures are not taken to protect them," she added.

Before the Syrian conflict erupted, UNRWA was helping some 530,000 Palestinians in Syria, around 70 percent of them living in and around Damascus.

Since the fighting began, some 360,000 of them have been displaced inside Syria and are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, according to UN figures, which do not take into account the mass-flight from Yarmuk in recent days.


© 2012 AFP

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