The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has conducted a damage assessment of its installations in the unofficial camp of Yarmouk, near Damascus, as well as the Dera’a Palestinian camp in the South of Syria. The Agency has 23 premises including 16 schools in Yarmouk. Almost all UNRWA premises need major repairs, 75% need to be completely rebuilt and all three of the Agency’s health centres in Yarmouk are completely destroyed. In Dera’a camp, only one distribution centre has been left untouched. The other 6 installations, including three school buildings and a clinic will need substantial repairs.
People have already slowly started to return to Dera’a camp, despite the huge damage and lack of basic infrastructure. Dera’a camp was home to 10,000 Palestine refugees before 2011. So far, 400 families have returned since the government retook control in July 2018. One of those who came back is Wajiha Mohammed. The 63-year-old widow returned to her home last week, along with her two daughters and two grandchildren. Her furniture was all looted, the corrugated iron roof has bullet holes and two ceilings need to be fixed after they were hit by mortars. “I don’t know how I will pay for this, I came back to this house because I was asked to leave the unfurnished house in a safer area where I was squatting; I cannot afford to pay rent. I survive on UNRWA assistance,” she says.
UNRWA welcomed the recent decision by the Syrian government to allow Palestine refugees to return to their homes in Dera’a camp and to Yarmouk camp in future. Yarmouk was home to about 160,000 Palestine refugees before the conflict. Like in Dera’a, the vast majority of houses have been affected and all basic infrastructure has been destroyed.
Once the government re-establishes basic infrastructure like electricity and water and ensures it is safe to enter by clearing the camp of rubble and possible unexploded remnants of war (ERW), the Agency will aim to repair UNRWA facilities that have been damaged or destroyed in order to serve the refugee population and fulfil its mandate. This was previously done with great success in other newly accessible areas following the end of fighting, such as Husseiniyeh in 2015 and Sbeineh and Khan Eshieh camps in 2017.
However, UNRWA said is facing a severe funding crisis. The Agency’s 2018 Emergency Appeal for Syria is just 16 per cent funded, out of total requirements of USD 329 million.
UNRWA called on the international community to provide it with support to allow the Agency to provide core services, including health services and education, to Palestine refugees in Syria who return to their homes in the camps.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.