Thousands of Palestinian refugees have fled the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus fearing “oppression” practiced by militant groups Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, says Secretary-General of the coalition of Palestinian factions in the camp, Khalid Abd al-Majid.
Speaking to Jordan’s Al-Ghad newspaper on Saturday, Abd al-Majid said fewer than 7,000 refugees remained in the camp, adding that the remaining refugees could be forced to leave the camp as well.
More than 13,000 refugees have left the camp recently, according to al-Majid.
Yarmouk — once a thriving, working-class residential district of the capital and home to some 160,000 people — is the largest refugee camp in Syria, and has suffered repeated bombardment in recent months, after being held under a government siege for over 18 months.
Since December 2012, more than 150,000 Palestinian refugees have fled from the Yarmouk camp after clashes broke between the Syrian regime forces and rebels.
“It is unlikely that refugees who left the camp would be able to go back because of the ongoing armed clashes in the camp between IS and Jabhat al-Nusra.” According to Abd al-Majid, IS has been trying to gain control on some parts of the camp which have been controlled by Palestinian factions who allegedly control over half of the camp’s area.
Yarmouk was initially overrun by extremist militants from the Islamic State group on April 1, and the group subsequently took over a significant portion of the camp.
While Al-Nusra and IS are both working against Assad’s government forces, the status of the Al-Nusra-IS relationship inside of Yarmouk is unclear, as Al-Nusra front had maintained control of the camp alongside Syrian rebels until the IS invasion.
Currently, IS has been pushed to the southwest area of the Damascus district, while Palestinian factions control the north and east part of the camp, with “intermittent clashes between the jihadists and factions,” PLO official Anwar Abdel Hadi said last week.
IS on Friday seized the last border crossing between Syria and Iraq that had been held by the Syrian government according to the Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group reportedly controls over 50 percent of the total geographical area of Syria.
Yarmouk refugees are a portion of the over half a million Palestinian refugees affected by the past five years of Syrian civil war and recent incursions by the Islamic State group.
The UNRWA Regional Syria Crisis Appeal for 2015 had only received 20 percent of the funding needed to aid Palestinian refugees in the area by the end of April.
“After enduring four years of conflict, two of them under siege-like conditions, and the suffering created by armed groups, the civilians in Yarmouk are at a breaking point,” the organization said.
The Palestinian Authority has collected $6.4 million to support the camp through deducting a small portion of civil servants’ salaries, as well as through donations from individuals and civil society organizations.
The money, however, hasn’t yet been sent to the refugees “who badly need the money,” al-Majid says.
As for refugees who left Yarmouk, many have reportedly been accommodated in sheltering centers created by the Syrian government and supervised by UNRWA and the Syrian Red Crescent Association.
(Ma’an – www.maannews.net)