As Islamic State forces invade and take over 90 percent of Yarmouk camp in Syria, residents of the camp reach out to the world pleading for their voices to be heard. They are demanding that the Palestinian Liberation Organization and humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross and UNRWA act in order to secure a safe exit passage to save the remaining 18,000 residents in the camp.
Yarmouk camp once was hailed as the capital of the Palestinian Diaspora with over 160,000 Palestinians in the camp. In December 2012, the Syrian regime began imposing a siege on the camp, which has resulted in the direct death of 200 Palestinians. In addition to that, over 1000 were killed due to the continuous shelling, attacks on the camp and torture in regime jails.
To add onto the siege which has lasted over 700 days, residents in al-Yarmouk are now struggling to survive in the face of assaults by IS forces and their allies.
Through the use of social networks, mainly Facebook and Twitter, this ongoing offensive and monstrosity is being recorded through the voices of those in the camp. These posts are not present to record a story, they are attempts to utilize the tools present in order to seek help from organizations that pledge to secure human rights for all. More specifically, organizations that speak on behalf of Palestinians especially Palestinian refugees.
H., whose name is changed due to security reasons, has been speaking about the situation of the camp asking for outside assistance since the imposition of the siege, one that was perpetuated by the Syrian regime, its allies in the camp and the silence from the international community. He now records his sentiments through Facebook statuses as they range from cynicism to despair to conveying to the outside community his situation and that of those surrounding him from the camp.
In one of his posts, H. explains his resentment towards those who have been silent regarding Yarmouk stating: “Yarmouk, did we not tell you to not trust anyone? Because even your shadow leaves you in times of darkness.” This was posted a day after the takeover of the camp by IS forces.
After the invasion by IS many individuals began making efforts to mobilize in order to highlight the plight of Yarmouk and the imminent danger surrounding it in attempts to stop another massacre from happening.
Two days after the invasion of IS into the camp, H. posts a status explaining the hypocrisy, the silence when the camp was besieged by Assad forces and the sudden outpouring of international mobilization after the invasion by IS. “Our voices were drained whilst we kept calling Yarmouk. Now everyone loves Yarmouk? I know it’s no time to shame, but it was you that partook in our besiegement.”
With no food due to the siege and as bombs continue to fall on the homes of Yarmouk, some residents still continue their attempts in sending out news to the international community. In one of his posts H. sends an apology: “we got tired as we run to send out the news. Forgive us. May you wake up to good news, God willing.”
As the camp called on the international community and the Palestinian Liberation Organization ad infinitum to intervene when the regime-implemented siege began they were met with little mobilization and a piercing silence. Today they endure yet another travesty as IS forces take over the camp and Jabhat al-Nusra assists in the onslaught.
On April 4th, PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Saeb Erekat released a statement calling upon the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian government to secure an evacuation for the civilians in the camp. The statement concludes:
“In the meantime, the tragedy unfolding in Al-Yarmouk shall remain a testament to the collective human failure of protecting civilians in times of war.”
The PLO must take a stronger stance on Yarmouk, and engage in active talks with all organizations responsible to ensure the safety of those that remain within the camp. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Red Cross also have a duty towards the residents of the camp, most of whom are refugees.
This is not the time just to lament what is going on in Yarmouk, this is not the time to put our heads into our palms and pity the residents in the camp. Their endurance and their will to live should mobilize us to take action, to invest all of our energy in attempting to save the little that is left to save in Yarmouk.
The camp is gone, but the lives remain. They are not numbers and it is our duty to work through any means possible to ensure their safety.
In one of his more recent posts, H. speaks with a tone of despair. “Yarmouk is dying now, it is being depleted. Be the voice of Yarmouk.”