On August 2, 2012, at least 20 Palestinian refugees living in the Yarmouk camp in the Syrian capital of Damascus were killed when mortar shells landed in a busy street. The violence in Yarmouk highlighted the increasingly perilous situation that Palestinians in Syria face as they attempt to navigate the complex political realities of the country and the unrest currently engulfing it. According to Syrian activists, to date, more than 20,000 Syrians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime. To put the plight of Palestinian refugees in Syria into context, the IMEU offers the following fact sheet.
PALESTINIAN REFUGEES IN SYRIA
- There are approximately 496,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, living in nine official and three unofficial camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
- The largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria is Yarmouk, located in Damascus. Founded in 1957, Yarmouk is home to some 148,500 Palestinian refugees, including many professionals, such as doctors, engineers, and civil servants.
- According to UNRWA, at least 225,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been affected by the ongoing violence. Estimates of the total number of Palestinians killed during the current political unrest range from 150 to 200.
- In July 2012, Syrian government forces opened fire on demonstrators in Yarmouk, killing dozens according to press reports.
- Many Palestinian refugees have been displaced by the fighting between government and anti-government forces. According to the UN, more than 10,000 Palestinians fled a refugee camp in the port city of Latakia in late 2011 due to the violence.
- In early July 2012, Human Rights Watch reported that Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence were being detained and/or forcibly returned to Syria by Jordanian authorities. According to the HRW report, "Since April, Jordanian authorities have automatically detained all Palestinians who enter Jordan without passing through an official border post, without the possibility of release. No such policy exists for thousands of Syrians entering the same way."
- On August 3, 2012, UNRWA issued a press release warning of the increasing dangers faced by Palestinian refugees in Syria, stating:
'The Agency notes with great concern that Palestine refugee communities in Damascus and its suburbs are experiencing, more than ever before, the effects of the escalating armed conflict in Syria. 'Intensive armed engagements in… districts that share borders with Yarmouk have resulted in deaths and injuries of residents of Yarmouk, including Palestine refugees. Refugee homes and properties and UNRWA installations have also been damaged during the armed engagements.'
- Most of the Palestinian refugees in Syria arrived in the country after fleeing violence or being expelled from their homes during Israel's creation in 1948. Most of them are originally from the northern part of British Mandate Palestine, mainly from Safad, Haifa, and Jaffa. About 100,000 additional Palestinian refugees fled further into Syria from the Golan Heights, after Israel conquered and occupied the area during the 1967 War.