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Occupied labour: The treadmill of Palestinian work in Israel

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 06:27:02 +0000

Driving near the concrete barrier that separates Israel from the southern West Bank, a car passes a Bedouin settlement, leaves the main road for a dirt one, and veers into a field. It stops next to a gap in the wall. Three men get out, rush through the opening, and are picked up on the other side – inside Israel. Further west, the ground becomes rocky and hilly. Four-wheel drives bring groups of men to another spot where the wall breaks. As the passengers step out, a car motors towards them, kicking up a massive dust cloud. The Palestinian men get in and the car speeds away towards an Israeli town. All of this repeats itself every few minutes each evening near Yatta, the West Bank’s third largest city, although it doesn’t look it: With a population of 65,000 on the dusty hills south of Hebron, its Old Town rarely sees an outside visitor, while piles of abandoned cars line its many winding streets. If Yatta seems forgotten, that’s because only 2,400 of its residents have jobs locally. Like much of the rest of the West Bank, the vast majority depend on the Israeli labour market for employment, in one way or another. This sort of dependency, fostered by 50 years of occupation, makes for a mean cycle. Salaries are higher in Israel, so young Palestinians look for work across the border. There is also less investment at home, and the local economy doesn’t create good jobs. For most West Bank Palestinians, crossing the border for work requires a job and a permit from the Israeli government. These can be hard to come by, so many take the illegal route, crossing through weak points in the barrier and finding lower paid informal employment. If caught, they face imprisonment. But for many, the risk is worth it. The Abu Bakr family* has a story like so many others in this small city: The oldest son can no longer enter Israel after repeated prison terms for crossing the wall illegally, the second oldest works on Israeli construction sites with a permit, the third does so without. The youngest, only 16, is looking to smuggle himself across the barrier for the second time during the summer holidays. Once there, he plans to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, at a car wash. He’ll live on the margins of society, constantly fearing capture. It’s an unquestionably difficult life, but locals have little choice but to tie their fates to business on the other side of the concrete, barbed wire, and checkpoints. “Without work in Israel, no family can survive here,” explained Yatta Mayor Ibrahim Abu Zahra. The bottom line The UN says Israel’s occupation is the “main trigger” of humanitarian needs in the West Bank and Gaza. A strangled economy is part of that occupation. While Gaza continues to suffer under a blockade, the combination of a demand for cheap labour inside Israel and the West Bank’s struggling economy – brought on in part by restrictions on movement and trade – mean many Palestinians seek work in Israel and “aspire to that as a primary solution” to their economic problems, according to the International Labor Organization. By the ILO’s count, at no point over the last 15 years have so many Palestinians worked in Israeli jobs: currently around 120,000, who earn a quarter of the West Bank’s total salaries. Andreas Hackl/IRIN Yatta has the third largest population in the West Bank, but it often feels empty The cash flow from work in Israel may be considered essential by many individuals and families, but it comes at a hefty price: the sustainable economic development of the Palestinian towns themselves. The combination of political instability and Israeli economic restrictions mean no one wants to invest in Yatta and workers look first to work across the wall, said its municipal manager, Nasser Raba’i. “Our economy is completely entangled with the Israeli economy,” he told IRIN. Saleh, a geography teacher from Yatta, said it’s rare for school leavers to even consider building their employment futures at home. “A[...]



World Vision "humanitarian hero" accused of funnelling millions to Hamas

Thu, 04 Aug 2016 18:27:06 +0000

Alleged fraud mastermind was nominated as a "humanitarian hero" in 2014 Germany, Australia, Gates Foundation among donors Scale of alleged fraud unclear World Vision and Hamas deny allegations The local head of Christian charity World Vision, who was featured as a “humanitarian hero” for the UN’s World Humanitarian Day in 2014, has diverted millions of dollars worth of cash and supplies to the military activities of the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza, according to Israel’s internal intelligence service. World Vision said in a Thursday statement it was “shocked” at the allegations against Mohammed El Halabi, who was arrested mid-June and held for 50 days (reportedly without access to a lawyer), and that it had “no reason to believe that the allegations are true”. It added that its programmes in Gaza were “subject to regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and a broad range of internal controls”. A 2015 evaluation of World Vision’s operations in Gaza found that “financial management, supporting accounting and procurement systems and financial reporting were very detailed and rigorous.” It further praised project managers for getting value for money in procurement. Israel says the alleged fraud illustrates “Hamas’ cynical exploitation of international humanitarian aid.” A Hamas spokesman told the Reuters news agency it had “no connection” to Halabi. Does it add up? The value of the goods and cash allegedly involved is unclear – Israel’s statements give a figure of $7.2 million and also say 60 percent of the charity’s annual budget was diverted since 2010, but it’s not clear how the figures were arrived at. According to some reports, the allegations are that over $7 million was diverted each year since 2010. Only fragments of public data are available to gauge the plausibility of fraud and deception on that scale, in part thanks to the opaque nature of charity finance and also because World Vision receives substantial funds – some 82 percent of its US revenue – from private individual donations that do not require detailed financial reporting, including church-related fundraising and child sponsorship. The International Aid Transparency Initiative, which encourages donors and aid agencies to share data on a voluntary basis, only has one record (a German government donation of $668,922) specific to World Vision’s work in Gaza over the last five years. IRIN has pieced together the few further available financial details (and will update here as and when more becomes available). The Israeli statements mention funding from the “United States, England and Australia” but do not specify whether government funds or donations from the public. A spokesperson for the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (an NGO fundraising consortium) told IRIN the group had provided £794,200 ($1 million at 2016 exchange rates) to World Vision in Gaza from its £19 million Gaza appeal haul in 2014. The spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate the diversion of aid funds for any purpose and particularly not for the support of armed groups. We are aware of the very serious allegations regarding the diversion of funds from the World Vision Gaza programme. World Vision is now urgently investigating these allegations but has said it has no reason to believe the allegations are true.” Some other sources of income for World Vision earmarked for Gaza: The largest donor visible in public data is Germany. It gave $3.6 million from 2014-2016, according to the UN Financial Tracking System. (Sources: FTS and IATI). Australia donated $933,707 also in 2014 for programmes dealing with the aftermath of the conflict. (Source: FTS) The Gates Foundation donated $500,000 for “reconstruction” in 2014. (Source: FTS) The data aggregator NGO Aid Map shows that World Vision lists only one project in Rafah, Gaza, funded by its income from individual donations. No financial information is provided. Risk Aid agencies face severe legal consequences if found neg[...]



Is this Palestinian refugee camp Syria's next Yarmouk?

Fri, 08 Jul 2016 10:07:48 +0000

A Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus is at risk of being further cut off from aid following weeks of bombing by Syrian pro-government forces and Russian warplanes. While there has been unprecedented interest in Syria’s besieged areas in recent weeks – aid has finally reached civilians in all 18 of the areas classified by the UN as besieged – the war on more than 9,000 civilians in Khan Eshieh has been intensifying. The road civilians use to access aid and basic goods risks becoming ever more treacherous, feeding concern that the area may become another Yarmouk – the notorious Palestinian camp where 18,000 refugees were trapped for some two years. “There is [a] lack of basic materials and goods [in the camp]…but people also don’t have the money to buy things,” a resident, Abu Musalam, told IRIN from inside Khan Eshieh. “There are no hospitals or health facilities. Recently, the pharmacies have emptied of medicines, even basic medicines like antibiotics or painkillers.” Bombardment  Daily life for at least 9,000 Palestinian refugees and an estimated 3,000 more internally displaced Syrians inside Khan Eshieh, some 30 kilometres southwest of Damascus, has become ever more treacherous: at least nine civilians have been killed in a month of shelling and airstrikes, according to the UN, local aid workers, and residents. On Monday, airstrikes hit civilian homes as well as a so-called child friendly space run by the Jafra Foundation, killing three people and wounding another five. The centre provided psychosocial support and recreational space as well as health and hygiene services to more than 1,000 children and was the only one of its kind in the camp. Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, said in a statement that the centre was a “point of respite… where children could go to momentarily overcome the horrors of the violence and the conflict that have defined their lives”. In mid-May, a car carrying six civilians through the camp was directly hit in another airstrike. The six people inside — including a child and his mother – were all killed. بوابة اللاجئين الفلسطينيين/IRIN Activists say this photo shows the destruction inside Khan Eshieh UNRWA has confirmed the death of nine civilians in recent weeks, but local sources cite a higher number. “At the beginning of Ramadan, the escalation against the camp started with artillery shelling… when a tank targeted three persons who were going out from the mosque,” Abu Musalam said. “After that, the Russian raids started…. There have been 14 martyrs during the month of Ramadan.” Locals report that civilian homes, infrastructure, and transport have all been hit. According to the Jafra Foundation, shelling trapped one young man under the rubble of his home on 28 June. He later died. Edging closer to siege But Khan Eshieh is not in a state of siege by the UN’s definition. In late May, government forces advanced on the only remaining route in and out of the camp, making access to surrounding areas difficult and extremely dangerous. While UNRWA has staff based in the camp, it can only deliver aid to its distribution centres in the nearby towns of Sahnaya and Khan Dunoun, where civilians pick it up along with other basic goods.  Civilians taking the only thoroughfare to the towns – known locally as the “death road” – are at risk of sniper fire. On 8 May, three Syrian IDPs living in Khan Eshieh were reportedly killed by heavy machine gun fire along the road. The UN’s designation of what counts as a siege in Syria has drawn controversy, with accusations that the body had allowed the government of President Bashar al-Assad to water down its description of the situation in the country. Related All you need to know about sieges in Syria In a May report, the monitoring group Siege Watch pointed out that siege conditions are not always clear cut; it[...]



18 months on, Gaza donors still falling way short

Mon, 18 Apr 2016 11:18:37 +0000

Only 40 percent of the $3.5 billion donors pledged in October 2014 for Gaza's reconstruction has been delivered, new World Bank figures reveal. That's an increase of only $159 million since the last time the World Bank issued data on the donations in August 2015, and major pledgers continue to fall short: Qatar has given only 15 percent of its $1 billion pledge; Saudi Arabia 10 percent of its $500 million promise; and the UAE just 15 percent of the $200 million it pledged. Kuwait has dispursed none of its $200 million pledge. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/BZbkB/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> The World Bank estimates that if donor funding continues to come in at this sluggish pace, pledges will be fulfilled in mid-2019, almost two years behind schedule. The 2014 war between Israel, Hamas and other Islamist militants killed 2,000 Palestinians - mostly civilians - 66 Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel. Some 11,000 homes were completely destroyed and another 6,800 severely damaged. Last week, the UN's emergency aid coordination body OCHA announced that as of its last survey in February, 90,000 Gazans are still displaced as a result of the fighting. Experts say that reconstruction has been slow due to limited donor money, Israeli restrictions on imports, and poor governance in Gaza. OCHA estimates that as of February 2016 only 16 percent of homes destroyed in the war have been rebuilt. as/ag 18 months on, Gaza donors still falling way short 201407170902070543.jpg Annie Slemrod Maps and Graphics Aid and Policy Conflict JERUSALEM IRIN Middle East and North Africa Palestine Israel العربية [...]



Israel ramps up home demolitions

Wed, 30 Mar 2016 09:49:39 +0000

As Palestinians mark the 40th anniversary of Land Day, home demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem appear to be on the rise.

As of 21 March, Israel had already destroyed 370 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank and 36 in East Jerusalem in 2016, displacing 534 people.

In comparison, a total of 447 structures in the West Bank and 74 in East Jerusalem were knocked down in all of 2015.

allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/BZ2tn/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%">

Land Day commemorates a 1976 mass protest by Palestinian citizens of Israel over the government’s confiscation of land. Six Arab-Israelis were killed in clashes, and since then the day has been an annual demonstration against Israeli policies in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Home demolitions are done for both administrative and punitive reasons, and they don’t just take place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem: Israel also takes down structures inside Israel, mostly in Bedouin villages that aren’t recognised by the state.

For more on the different types of demolitions and the displacement they cause, see our 2015 report: Four facts you might not know about housing demolitions by Israel.

Israel ramps up home demolitions (image) Bedouin home demolition protest.jpg Annie Slemrod Maps and Graphics Migration Conflict JERUSALEM IRIN Middle East and North Africa Palestine Israel



Five key challenges for new UN refugee chief

Tue, 05 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Getting back to work following the end-of-year break can be tough. But spare a thought for Filippo Grandi, who arrived in Geneva this week to begin his five-year term as head of the UN’s refugee agency. Not only is he replacing António Guterres, who held the office of High Commissioner for the past 10 years and was widely revered, but he is doing so at a time when record numbers of people around the world are fleeing persecution and conflict and in need of UNHCR’s protection and support. Unlike many of his predecessors, he is not a former politician. Instead, he has had a long career with the UN, including a stint as head of UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees. His experience in the humanitarian and refugee sectors made him a popular insider’s choice for the role of High Commissioner, but he will also need considerable diplomatic skills to be effective as UNHCR’s chief fundraiser and refugee advocate at such a crucial time in the agency’s history.  Here are five of the greatest challenges likely to preoccupy him in the coming months: 1. Providing protection and support to more than 60 million forcibly displaced people – Preliminary figures suggest 2015 was another record-breaking year for forced displacement, with five million people newly displaced between January and June. Figures for the second half of the year are not yet available, but the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless and internally displaced people who fall under UNHCR’s mandate is expected to surpass 60 million. Of those, just over 20 million are refugees, the highest number since 1992. 2. Dealing with protracted displacement – The rate at which refugees are able to safely return home is at its lowest level in more than three decades. Speaking at his final press conference last month, Guterres recalled that when he first took office a decade ago, UNHCR helped one million people return home. In 2014, only 124,000 people were able to do so. As conflicts and displacement become increasingly protracted, Grandi and his staff are faced with the task of continuing to support refugee populations beyond the emergency phase. To a large extent, this will mean helping refugees find ways to sustain themselves through livelihood support programmes and advocacy with host governments reluctant to extend refugees the right to work or live outside camps. 3. Doing more with less – As the global refugee population continues to mount, one of Grandi’s main tasks will be to persuade donors to fund the soaring cost of supporting them. UNHCR’s programmes are almost entirely dependent on voluntary contributions from governments and private donors. Over the past five years, the agency’s budget has more than doubled, peaking at $7.2 billion in 2015. Donor contributions have not kept pace, meaning that 53 percent of the 2015 budget had not been funded by the end of the year. With a proposed budget of $6.5 billion for 2016, Grandi urgently needs to find new, creative ways to address the growing funding gap as health, education, livelihoods support, and even basic assistance programmes face cuts. He is likely to look to the private sector and other non-traditional donors as one way of broadening the agency’s current reliance on a handful of governments for the majority of contributions. 4. Threats to refugee protection posed by growing security concerns – Grandi is taking the helm at UNHCR at a time when attitudes towards refugees have never been so polarised or politicised. Partly, this is the result of one million asylum seekers arriving in Europe in 2015, stoking fears among local populations that job markets and public services would be swamped. But those fears have been compounded by security concerns, particularly in the wake of the November terror attacks in Paris and news that at least one of the attackers entered Europe via Greece by posing as a Syrian refugee. A number of member sta[...]



Old problems in Jerusalem's Old City

Mon, 23 Nov 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Faten Ghosheh, a 33-year-old Palestinian mother of five, stands on the roof of her partially demolished home in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex visible behind her. She recalls the moment five years ago when Israeli forces arrived at 5am to tear down the two rooms and bathroom that her husband had built with their life savings of 700,000 shekels ($180,000). To avoid the fine that the Jerusalem municipality would charge for the demolition, the Ghoshehs called on the men in their family to come and tear down the walls. “The children were all crying,” she says. “The older children brought hammers and started demolishing with their father.” Now the family of nine, which includes Ghosheh’s sister-in-law and mother-in-law, makes do with only one bedroom. “In order to protect this, the mosque,” she explains, gesturing towards the glistening dome on the horizon, “we will continue to live here. We consider ourselves … defenders of Al-Aqsa.” Her comment explains at least some of the sentiment behind the wave of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that began last month and has claimed the lives of 16 Israelis, an American, an Eritrean and at least 90 Palestinians, including attackers. For many Palestinians, Al-Aqsa, which stands on land Israel occupied in 1967, is as much of a political symbol as it is a religious one. Alleged Israeli provocation at Al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount – holy to both Jews and Muslims – were a match to the powder keg of home demolitions, taxation without services, classroom shortages, and grinding poverty. As much of the violence has shifted to the West Bank (although there was a stabbing Monday in West Jerusalem) East Jerusalem remains a focal point for protests, and the issues Palestinians face there are on full display inside the walls of the Old City, where the flare-up began. Building permit woes The Ghoshehs applied for but were denied a building permit for the rooms that were eventually torn down. Human rights organisations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), argue that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to get permits. Only 14 percent of Palestinian East Jerusalem is zoned for residential use; less than eight percent of Jerusalem’s total landmass for a third of its population. In 2014, Israeli forces destroyed 98 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem because they were built without permits. Two were in the Old City, displacing seven people, including five children. The Jerusalem municipality insists Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem can obtain building permits. The city points to 2014’s numbers: 108 permits were requested for East Jerusalem; 85 were granted. Asked if these permits were granted to Palestinian residents or the Jewish Israeli settlers who live in East Jerusalem, Ben Avrahami, a spokesman for the municipality, said he did not have that information on hand. The reality is that many Palestinians feel ahead of time that they will not be granted permits. By ACRI’s count, an estimated 39 percent of the houses in East Jerusalem have been built without permission. “It’s not because we want to make their lives more difficult,” Avrahimi told IRIN. “It’s a problem with tabo [land registration]. It’s very complicated to prove ownership.” To that end, he adds, the city has started a special committee to examine those who claim ownership but lack all of the documentation, though not in all of East Jerusalem. Lack of services After the demolition, with the roof of the top floor torn away and most of the walls gone, the Ghoshehs added tin in an attempt to keep out the wind and rain. But it isn’t enough. During heavy winter storms, water leaks into the home. The city has fined them for the erecting the tin. The family also pays arnona, property tax, to the municipality. Paying it is crucial to East Jerusalemit[...]



'We can't have another year like this'

Thu, 20 Aug 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Schools open on time. It hardly sounds like news, but for half a million Palestinian refugee children it certainly is. On Wednesday, the UN body that looks after Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced it had overcome a $101 million deficit and the school year wouldn’t have to be delayed after all. After a desperate funding drive, Gulf Arab countries and the United States filled the gap, but with more refugees, growing needs and little new donor money, the underlying problems remain. It is clear the agency must make radical changes to avoid being in the same situation next year. IRIN sat down with UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl to find out how the agency overcame what he said was its “most serious financial crisis ever” and what he plans to do to keep it out of trouble for good. In a wide-ranging interview, he addresses new school class sizes, the organisation's financial situation and protests against his leadership.   On Wednesday, you announced that UNWRA schools would start on time. Do you now have enough money to guarantee they will be open for the entire academic year? I think we’re good for this year because we have roughly $80 million out of the $101 that we needed. So we have an outstanding contribution by the European Union… We may need one or two other donors, but I think essentially we’re there. You have raised the class numbers you use for planning in UNRWA schools to 50 children. How will this affect how many teachers you employ? We don't know yet because the class formation exercise hasn't been completed. It’s still being finalised. They’re going to complete it now for the West Bank and Gaza, now that they know the school year will open. There are still debates around that, among teachers, unions and others, but it has to be understood first of all the ceiling of 50 existed already a few years ago, so it is a ceiling that has been used in the past. The average will probably be somewhere around 41 or 42. That is compared to an average of previous years around 38, 37. It’s obviously an increase in the number of children per classroom, so in principle you should have fewer teachers in some places, but for the moment we don't have the full picture on that.  This does seem to be an ongoing problem with UNRWA – funding comes in at the last minute and every few years there is a financial crisis. We know needs are increasing and funding is short, so what kind of long-term changes are you considering in how the agency works to avoid this? There are very few agencies in the humanitarian system that don’t have deficits or funding shortfalls against needs, but the thing about this year is that never before had it put our immediate core activities – and particularly our flagship education program – at risk. That’s unprecedented. So I need everybody to understand that this is not just another financial deficit year, it’s a year where we came much closer than we ever should have to having the school year delayed – not because of war like last year in Gaza – but a funding shortfall. That should never have happened. We should never again be in a situation where the school year is at risk. That will require, again, a certain number of internal steps and outreach to donors and there will be a series of meetings taking place that we will try to organise with the League of Arab States, certainly also at the United Nations General Assembly and High Level Segment Week we will try to have ministerial events so we can try to have a proper discussion with the donor countries and institutions that have been most engaged with us to say ‘this [cost-cutting measure] is our contribution but now we really count on you to be able to establish a more predictable form of funding for UNRWA’s core services,’ because we cannot allow the instability, uncertainty and anxiety… to happen again. We[...]



Film: Gaza fire

Mon, 17 Aug 2015 23:00:00 +0000

More than a year since a devastating war between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, whole communities remain affected.

The conflict left more than 2,000 Palestinians and 71 Israelis dead, while Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza left 18,000 homes destroyed.

The Palestinian enclave's fire service was on the front line - desperately trying to save people caught in the fighting. One year on, Gaza's firefighters are battling not just flames - but politics, salary shortages and a chronic lack of equipment.

Watch IRIN's new film: Gaza Fire.

width="480" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N_ZhjwbNq2c" frameborder="0"> 101875 (image) 201508180920130219.jpg Feature Conflict Film: Gaza fire IRIN GAZA CITY Israel Palestine



Yarmouk camp no longer besieged, UN rules

Thu, 23 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

The United Nations has quietly removed a major Palestinian camp from its list of besieged areas in Syria, despite not being able to deliver aid there for four months, and to the shock of residents. The Yarmouk camp, a sprawling residential area on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, was home to over 200,000 Palestinians before the country’s civil war began in 2011. The vast majority of the population has since fled, but around 18,000 people have remained trapped inside by a government siege for more than two years.  Earlier this year, militants from the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) briefly infiltrated Yarmouk and seized a large part of it. Control of the camp is still disputed but government forces maintain checkpoints around the area preventing people from coming and going. The UN continues to have no direct access, but has been able, with partners, to deliver aid to three nearby suburbs. Consequently, in his latest report to the UN Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reclassified the camp. Ahmed*, a Yarmouk resident, said that people were still denied entry and exit and that no support had been received for more than a month.  When told that the UN no longer considered the camp besieged, he called the organisation “liars.” “The UN stopped its support more than 50 days ago,” he told IRIN. When is a siege not a siege? Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNWRA – the UN’s agency for Palestinians and the leading UN body concerned with Yarmouk – confirmed that no aid had been allowed in for months. “Access to Yarmouk in the context of the last few years has been appalling,” he said. “We have not managed to have the access that we need and certainly we have not been in the camp since March 28, just a few days before ISIS moved in.” The final decision on the status of the camp, however, is made not by UNRWA but by the UN secretary-general (UNSG) on the advice of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which oversees all the UN’s emergency aid programmes. The latest UNSG report on Syria – released at the end of June – says that 422,000 people remain besieged in Syria, down from 440,000 earlier this year. The difference is due to the 18,000 people in Yarmouk, who are no longer considered besieged. The report argues that aid has reached those who have crossed into the neighbouring areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm, but even that assistance has been cut off since the government withdrew permission on 8 June. Inside the camp, it says, “no humanitarian access has been granted directly” since 28 March. The UN defines a besieged area as one that is, "surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit the area.” Ahmed told IRIN civilians were unable to leave Yarmouk for fear of arrest at Syrian government checkpoints. The reclassification of Yarmouk – an iconic location in the civil war due in part to a globally shared photo (shown above this story) of thousands of Palestinians waiting for aid – comes as the United Nations faces separate criticism for allegedly underestimating the number of people under siege, particularly those by the Syrian regime. The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, a US-registered non-profit, released a report in March alleging that more than 600,000 people are under siege by government forces, more than treble the number the UN claimed at the time. The report, which did not include more than 200,000 people under siege by the so-called Islamic State, identified 38 communities it said should be considered, beyond those the UN actually recognises. Valerie Szybala, author of the report, said OCHA has not applied its definition of besieged consistently[...]