Seven years of relentless violence and deteriorating economic conditions continue to undermine the resilience of Palestine refugees living in Syria. Of the 560,000 Palestine refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), 438,000 Palestine refugees are in Syria including 254,000 who remain displaced within Syrian borders; An estimated 56,600 (of the 438,000) are trapped in hard-to-reach and besieged areas where humanitarian access remains a key challenge.
Across the country, nine UNRWA-managed shelters have been providing a safe place to stay for many internally displaced Palestinians. As the conflict in Syria has heavily limited people’s ability to provide for themselves and to access basic services, Palestine refugees continue to rely on UNRWA for health, education and food though cash and in-kind assistance.
The Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF) provided about US$2 million worth multi-sectorial assistance to UNRWA to cover basic food and emergency items for an estimated 1,685 residents (as of 31 December 2017) in all nine shelters, and bore some of the costs related to the management of the shelters, which are located in Damascus city and Rural Damascus Governorate.
“The Palestine refugees were internally displaced; they had lost their homes and livelihoods. This funding contributed to meeting their basic needs and giving them hope for survival,” said Jamal Abu-Mousa, acting Senior Humanitarian Response Officer, with UNRWA.
At the UNRWA-run shelters, the refugees do not receive humanitarian assistance alone, but an opportunity to build their self-esteem and future. “Many of the internally displaced people receive vocational training, educational support, cash grants, and psychosocial support,” said Deana Hillis, Shelter Management Officer with UNRWA. She explained that their approach is a participatory one, whereby the displaced Palestinians help manage the shelters, distribute aid, solicit feedback from other residents on the items received, resolve conflicts and bring up any arising issue with UNRWA personnel.
“The internally displaced people in UNRWA-supported collective shelters belong to the most vulnerable groups who lost all their assets,” noted Mohammad Abu Shaaban, UNRWA Humanitarian Response Officer for food and NFI assistance operations.
In the Damascus Training Center (DTC), one of the SHF-supported collective shelters, displaced people receive hot meals for lunch as well as canned food parcels to cover breakfast and dinner. UNRWA tracks the distribution of supplies using aid receipt which includes the residents’ fingerprints and full details, according to the DTC Shelter Assistant Manager, Basem Alsallal.
Ms. M. Hajjo, an internally displaced person from Yarmouk Camp area in Rural Damascus, who has been head of her family since 2012, said she and her three children were satisfied with the kitchen services, which provided much-needed hot meals,
Siham Ajjan, a volunteer in the DTC, emphasized the importance of having gender-balanced teams to distribute assistance, and to accommodate the specific needs of women-headed households, the elderly and other vulnerable people.
An internally displaced woman from the AlHajar AlAswad area in Rural Damascus, and a mother of three girls, received thick jackets and boots for her three children. “The colours are beautiful and will keep the children warm while they are going to school,” she said.
UNRWA is currently facing a reduction in funding which is threatening the dignity of millions of Palestine refugees in Syria and other fields of operation. In his message in the 2018 Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal, UNRWA Commissioner-General, Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl, noted that “the Agency’s role as a lifeline for Palestine refugees in Syria and those who have fled to Lebanon and Jordan depends on the generosity of donors and the guarantee of safe and consistent access to those in need, in accordance with international humanitarian laws and norms.” He urged “donors to maintain and increase their financial support in 2018 to mitigate the humanitarian impacts of the crisis in Syria, enhance protection and prevent further suffering.”
Photos: OCHA/R. Aswad