Montreal, April 13, 2015 — Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) calls on the Canadian government to make an emergency intervention to help the Palestinian refugees caught between warring factions at the Yarmouk camp. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the situation in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp this week, calling it Syria’s “deepest circle of hell.” Yarmouk Camp, located just seven kilometers from central Damascus, is currently home to approximately 18,000 Palestinian refugees and has been threatened by Assad government forces, Syrian rebel groups and, most recently, Islamic State (ISIS) fighters. The situation in Yarmouk has deteriorated in past weeks with aid agencies unable to reach people in need and ISIS militants engaging in violent acts against civilians. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon further described Yarmouk by saying, “a refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp.”
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is largely responsible for providing humanitarian services to the refugee Palestinian population, estimates that over 90 percent of Palestinian refugees in Syria require continuous aid. However, current projects are only about 20 percent funded and UNRWA workers have limited access to the camp. On the political front, the Palestinian refugee question is largely the responsibility of the Refugee Working Group (RWG), which has been led by the Canadian government since its creation in 1991.
As the “gavel holder” of the RWG, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) calls on the Canadian government to intervene in the current situation in Yarmouk camp. The RWG’s mandate has included “disaster-avoidance” since its inception and, as gavel holder, the Canadian government has a responsibility to mobilize the RWG in addressing the deteriorating conditions in Yarmouk. Moreover, the Harper government has refused to contribute to UNRWA’s General Fund since 2012, providing funding only to the organization’s Emergency Fund, which is activated in the case of temporary need, such as famine, earthquake or wartime crisis.
According to CJPME President Thomas Woodley, “The Canadian government has a responsibility to prevent situations like the one we are currently observing in Yarmouk camp. By refusing to contribute to UNRWA’s General Fund and by ignoring its duties as gavel holder of the RWG, the Harper government is essentially allowing this disaster to continue on its watch.” CJPME also notes that it effectively warned Canadian officials of situations such as this in previous years. During CJPME’s communications with Ottawa in 2014, it urged the Canadian government to catalogue vulnerable groups in Iraq and Syria and to provide contingency plans should the circumstances in either country deteriorate.
Given the current violations of international law occurring in Yarmouk, CJPME strongly urges action on the part of the Canadian government and the international community. The protection of Palestinian refugees is a question of moral decency, and basic human rights and should be addressed accordingly.
About CJPME – Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is a non-profit and secular organization bringing together men and women of all backgrounds who labour to see justice and peace take root again in the Middle East. Its mission is to empower decision-makers to view all sides with fairness and to promote the equitable and sustainable development of the region.
For more information, please contact Patricia Jean, 438-380-5410
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East www.cjpme.org
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