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Palestinians Bid Farewell to Syria's Yarmouk Refugee Camp

Palestinians Bid Farewell to Syria's Yarmouk Refugee Camp

Sunday, 29 March, 2020 - 08:30
Residents wait in line to receive food aid in Yarmouk camp (File photo: Reuters)

Palestinian refugees lost all hopes to return to Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, which resembled a symbol for their "right of return." The Syrian authorities revealed a plan that would change the developmental and demographic conditions of the camp which already lost huge areas under war.

Many Palestinians displaced from the camp to neighboring areas believe their hopes to return to the camp have been dashed. They have lived for decades in the camp and turned it into an important commercial center in Damascus. The camp has also seen the biggest protests against Israeli practices in Palestine.

The Yarmouk camp, seven kilometers south of the capital, has an area of about two square kilometers and administratively follows the governorate of Damascus. However, since the 1960s, it had administrative privileges to be managed by an independent local committee.

The camp was first established in 1957 over a small area, before it expanded in Damascus and became an essential part of its geographical and demographic components, becoming the largest gathering of Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

It also became known as the capital of the Palestinian diaspora, as it includes 36 percent of Palestinian refugees in Syria, more than 450,000, knowing that in Syria alone there are fifteen refugee camps distributed over six cities.

Earlier in the twentieth century, the urban development in the camp accelerated and services were improved. Many governmental centers, institutions, and commercial markets opened in the camp to the point where it became a very vital area attracting many businesses who took advantage of the population's density.

The Yarmouk camp has become divided into three sections: old camp, West Yarmouk area, and al-Qadm area.

Before the war broke in Syria 10 years ago, the camp was densely occupied and there was no place to set a foot. However, the war caused a catastrophe in the camp that exceeded the tragedies of 1984 Nakba and the 1967 Six-Day War. Hundreds were killed and injured and most of its residents, estimated between 500 and 600 thousand people, were displaced.

In May 2018, the government army and loyal Palestinian factions launched a violent military operation in the camp, which ended the control of opposition factions, ISIS, and al-Nusra Front and damaged over 60 percent of its buildings.

Member of Damascus Executive Office in charge of Yarmouk issue, Samir Jazerli, revealed earlier this month the organizational plans for the camp that will be implemented.

Jazerli, in his statements to a local radio station, explained that the engineering company has developed three solutions to deal with camp including: rehabilitating the most affected areas, or carrying out an organizational plan for the most affected areas and keeping the old camp according to the plan amended in 2013, or completely reorganize the 220-hectares camp.

The official indicated that the second option will most likely be executed, given that it includes minor modifications in the main street of Yarmouk. Later, they will initiate the process of bringing the residents back to their homes after they prove their ownership.

He pointed out that the most damaged areas will be reorganized with standard specifications, including towers in the 30th street which was a military confrontation area, provided that these towers take the status of compensation and housing.

The main Yarmouk Street will be expanded to a width of 40 meters, with its current width reaching between 20 and 25 meters.

Jazerli pointed out that the Yarmouk region has become an organizational affiliate of Damascus according to the decision of the Prime Minister, after it was affiliated with the local committee of the Ministry of Local Administration.

Yarmouk Services Department has been established which monitors the maintenance and rehabilitation of the camp, knowing that some buildings are inhabitable and others are completely destroyed.

A Palestinian refugee in his seventies was displaced from Yarmouk after the armed opposition factions took control of it at the end of 2012. He hoped to return to the camp, however, since Jazerli announced the new plans, he believes that won’t be possible.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that many neighborhoods will be replaced with tall buildings.

Another Palestinian refugee who had been displaced from West Yarmouk told Asharq Al-Awsat that the area which Jazerli said will include towers, is about half the area of the camp.

He explained that many residents wonder who will be allowed to return and whether there will be new residents. He indicated that a large number of the residents who joined the opposition factions were displaced with their families to northern Syria, and others immigrated outside Syria.

The Palestinian refugee believes that the situation in the camp is more than just an organizational plan, and rather linked to the general political situation in the region and the world.

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