“Ambulance”; Body of starved man carried on pushcart in al-Yarmouk. 29 January 2014 (Source: WorldBulletin.net) “Ambulance”; Body of starved man carried on pushcart in al-Yarmouk. 29 January 2014 (Source: WorldBulletin.net)
Soon after the outbreak of the crisis in Syria in 2011, the official spokesperson of UNRWA, Christopher Gunness, urged “to preserve the neutrality of the Palestinian refugees in Syria, so that the fulfillment of their needs continues”.[1] This impartiality, however, did not prevent Palestinian refugees from becoming victims of the conflict. The residents of Palestinian refugee camps in Syria bear very harsh conditions as they are no longer guaranteed basic standards of living. Many camps have turned into battlefields and their streets are under the control of snipers, often becoming the focus point of violent attacks.[2]
In August 2011, the Syrian Army invaded the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Ramel[3] in the city of Latakia, forcing the displacement of approximately 5,000 Palestinians. On 16 December 2012, the Syrian army bombed al-Yarmouk camp, killing tens of civilians and causing mass displacement. As a result, the population of al-Yarmouk was reduced from 160,000 to 30,000. Four months later, on 26 April 2013, “following months of sporadic armed engagements”, 6,000 residents of Ein Al-Tal refugee camp were forcibly displaced.[4] Today, five Palestinian refugee camps in Syria remain inaccessible. The camp of Khan Eshieh is besieged by mortar shelling and clashes, with the presence of armed groups inside the camp. Here, Palestinians are allowed to leave the camp in order to receive food assistance, but they are not allowed to bring anything else back into the camp. Al-Yarmouk camp experiences ongoing clashes and shelling, and Ein Al-Tal suffered from intense clashes in January 2015.[5]

In 2011, approximately 61% of the Palestinian refugees lived in the 15 Palestinian camps in Syria.[6] By November 2013, this percentage fell to half, as only 27% of the registered Palestinian refugees remained in camps.[7] By the end of November 2014, all 26,487 residents of Sbeineh refugee camp, the 32,533 residents of al-Huseiniya camp as well as the 6,385 Palestinian refugees of Ein Al-Tal camp, were displaced as ongoing violence turned the camps into empty places.[8] In February 2015, the Action Group for Palestinians in Syria announced that 2,629 Palestinian refugees had died during the Syrian crisis. At least 286 victims were killed by torture and 267 by sniper fire. Furthermore, 84 refugees were executed, and 986 were killed in different bombings.[9]
 
The rates of internal displacement of refugees increase every day. More than 75% of the refugees residing in camps have been displaced inland. Most of them were forcibly displaced several times.[10] So far, more than 80,000 Palestinian refugees have fled to neighboring countries while at least 480,000 Palestinian refugees still remain in Syria. All of them are in continuous need of humanitarian aid.[11]
 
The Rights of Palestinian refugees in SyriaCompared to other countries, Palestinian refugees in Syria received an adequate level of protection before the start of the present conflict.[12] Registered refugees were treated relatively well as they enjoyed almost the same rights as Syrian nationals, with the exception of citizenship and the right to vote. In January 1949, the Syrian government created the Bureau for Palestinian Arab Refugees, later known as the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees (GAPAR), representing “the main Syrian government body that engages with Palestinian refugees”, with “an active presence in Palestinian refugee camps”. GAPAR became responsible for organizing, relieving and securing the needs of Palestinian refugees, and allocating suitable jobs for them. Syria also implemented different Arab League resolutions such as the Casablanca Protocol, which is supposed to grant Palestinian refugees full access to education, no restriction on employment and travel, and only a few restrictions with regard to ownership of property.[13]
 
After the eruption of the Syrian conflict, however, Palestinian refugees were deprived of many rights, and at the moment most of them face the continuous risk of being arbitrarily arrested or tortured. In 2012, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education even excluded Palestinian students from its public schools.[14]

Camps as sheltersAlthough located in the center of confrontations, some refugee camps serve as a safe haven for displaced Palestinians and Syrians. Until the end of 2012, al-Yarmouk camp was a shelter for thousands of displaced Syrians as well as Palestinians.[15] The military attack in December 2012, however, displaced almost 80% of the entire camp. The Syrian regime has been imposing a blockade on the camp since July 2013, denying residents all access to food or medicine. As of late April 2015, the residents of al-Yarmouk had undergone more than 656 days under siege, while power was cut for at least 736 days and without any access to water for 226 days.[16] More than 1,053 Palestinian al-Yarmouk residents died,[17] at least 128 of them from starvation.[18]

Further away from most violent areas, Jaramana camp represents an important shelter for Palestinians, accommodating nearly 5,000 displaced families, mainly from al-Yarmouk, Qabr Essit and Sbeineh camps, and from al-Thyabiah, a town north of al-Huseiniya camp.
However, the camp started to suffer from overcrowding as the massive displacement of the Palestinian camps in the region of Damascus kept growing.[19] Similarly, Khan Dynoun refugee camp in the south of Damascus, hosts thousands of displaced people, especially from al-Yarmouk, al-Huseiniya, Qabr Essit, and Sbeineh refugee camps. Also in this camp, residents suffer from a deteriorating economic situation as overcrowding, inaccessibility to goods and high unemployment rates are resulting in an acute shortage of food and medical supplies.[20] Given the scale of displacement, many UNRWA schools have opened their doors to accommodate people fleeing their homes.
 
The lack of means to coordinate the provision of services makes the work of UNRWA, Palestinian factions, Popular Committees and institutions increasingly difficult.[21] Today, the proportion of Palestinian refugees in Syria requiring assistance from UNRWA has increased to over 90%. This situation leaves them largely dependent on funding from the international community.[22]

As of June 2014, the number of internally displaced people in Syria was approximately 6.8 million, 280,000 of whom are Palestinian refugees[23].
 
* Katrien De Bock is a research intern for BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Sciences, and another in Human Rights, Conflict and Development.

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[1] Palestinian Return Centre, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, and Filistin Dayanışma Derneği (FİDDER), Report on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Syria, 53.
[2] Ibid., 42.
[3] Al-Ramel is an unofficial camp, known as the Latakia camp.
[4] BADIL Staff, “Palestinian Refugees from Syria: Ongoing Nakba, Ongoing Discrimination,” 3.
[5] UNRWA, “Syria Regional Crisis Response Update 84,” February 27, 2015.
[6] BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Survey, 2010-2012, VI:13.
[7] Palestinian Return Centre, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, and Filistin Dayanışma Derneği (FİDDER), Report on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Syria, 6.
[8] Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, Camps without Refugees.
[9] Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, Daily Report on the Situation of Palestinian Refugees in Syria.
[10] Palestinian Return Centre, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, and Filistin Dayanışma Derneği (FİDDER), Report on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Syria, 33.
[11] UNRWA, Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal 2015, 2.
[12] BADIL, Rights in Principle - Rights in Practice, 233.
[13] BADIL Staff, “Palestinian Refugees from Syria: Ongoing Nakba, Ongoing Discrimination,” 2–3.
[14] Palestinian Return Centre, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, and Filistin Dayanışma Derneği (FİDDER), Report on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Syria, 32.
[15] Ibid., 53.
[16] Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, Civic Council in Besieged al-Yarmouk Camp: al-Yarmouk Camp Is Dying, We Demand the Return of Normal Life.
[17] Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, The Detailed Statistics of the Palestinian Refugee Victims in Syria, 2011-2015, 2011–2015.
[18] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10686208/Syrian-forces-committing-war-crimes-by-starving-Palestinian-camp.html
[19] Palestinian Return Centre, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, and Filistin Dayanışma Derneği (FİDDER), Report on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Syria, 12.
[20] Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, “Khan Dannon Camp Hosts Thousands of People from the Camps That Have Deteriorated Security Conditions.”
[21] Palestinian Return Centre, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, and Filistin Dayanışma Derneği (FİDDER), Report on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Syria, 54.
[22] Noura Erakat, “Palestinian Refugees and the Syrian Uprising: Filling the Protection Gap during Secondary Forced Displacement,” 611.
[23] UNRWA, “Syria Crisis | UNRWA.”