Gaunt, ragged figures fill the streets for as far as the eye can see in the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk outside Damascus, where some 40,000 are said to be slowly starving to death.
The United Nations distributed shocking images this week of thousands of people, their faces emaciated, desperately flocking to receive food aid that only a few were lucky enough to collect.
“We live in a big prison,” said Rami al-Sayed, a Syrian activist living in Yarmuk adding “But at least, in a prison, you have food. Here, there’s nothing. We are slowly dying.”
“Sometimes, crowds of children stop me on the streets, begging me: ‘For the love of God, we want to eat, give us food.’ But of course, I have no food to give them,” Sayed said.
After months of shelling and fierce fighting in and around Yarmuk between rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, the camp’s population has shrunk from more than 150,000 to 40,000. Among them are 18,000 Palestinians.
Since last summer, the area has been under choking army siege, creating inhumane conditions for its inhabitants. “We’ve been living off herbs, but these herbs are bitter. Even animals won’t eat them and if you go to the orchards to pick herbs from there, to use them to cook soup, you’ll get sniped,” said Sayed.
Even the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinians was overwhelmed by the drama. Since January, the agency has only been able to carry out limited, intermittent food distribution in the camp.
“The situation is really tragic. On the streets, all you see are emaciated people, their faces drained of any life. Sadness is everywhere,” said Sayed.