Screenshot from a video showing cars loaded with luggage leaving the Yarmouk camp.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees have fled the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus over the past five days in the wake of the Syrian air force bombardment. An observer on the ground has told FRANCE 24 about the suffering and panic among the refugees, many of whom are now homeless.
Since July, Yarmouk has become an area of strategic importance in the battle between government forces and the rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Tension increased in October when soldiers from the FSA fought militia members from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP – GC), a small armed group financed by the Syrian government. On December 18, the FSA rebels announced that they had taken control of the Yarmouk camp, but fighting with the regular army has continued since then. The ongoing fighting has caused more than half of the camp’s residents to flee.
An FSA rebel announces the takeover of the camp in a street of Yarmouk, while behind him, refugees can be seen leaving, as the rebel himself announces at 0’15.
The Yarmouk camp, which was established back in 1957, is one of the largest Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Located 8 kilometres south of the Damascus city centre, the camp is spread out over a surface area measuring 2 square kilometres and is home to more than 148,000 people, according to the UNHCR. The camp’s inhabitants are not only Palestinian; a number of Syrians of modest means also live in the camp.
More than 100,000 refugees have fled the camp. However, some refugees started to return to the Yarmouk camp on Thursday despite sporadic shelling.

“Many will flee to Lebanon”

Ali Hourani, 27, is a Palestinian refugee from the Yarmouk camp.
People started fleeing on Monday because rumours spread that the regular army was going to enter the camp and kick us out. I left the camp on Tuesday morning with my parents and my five siblings. We tried to leave earlier, but it was too dangerous due to the fighting [between the FSA and the FPLP – CG militia]. Even though the FSA is supposed to be in control of the camp, the situation is far from stable. We were no longer safe.
We took with us the bare minimum: warm clothing, our laptops, my father’s insulin [because he is diabetic], and my mother and sister’s jewellery. A camp resident took us in his truck, but many people left on foot, taking only one small piece of luggage.
Video showing the departure of Palestinian refugees from the Yarmouk camp.
For the time being, we have relocated in the Ibn Nafiss neighbourhood [in northern Damascus], with a family friend. But not everyone was so lucky.
Refugees who have the means to do so rent houses in Damascus, generally in the Zahira or Al Maydan neighbourhoods, which are those closest to the camp. This is just the first step in their journey; they will probably then go on to Lebanon, which remains easier to get into for Palestinians than Jordan [according to another Observer, Palestinians can get into Lebanon for a visa costing on average 20 US dollars].
Those without money take refuge in mosques, schools, and UNRWA centres [UNRWA is the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East], like the Damascus Training Centre dormitory. The more unfortunate ones end up sleeping in the street.