Why are we looking at Syria’s Yarmouk camp and the destruction of its mostly Palestinian inhabitants, combined with Egypt’s shortlived travel ban of citizens of at least one country?
To understand why, it helps to understand why. The Syrian war has gone on for more than six years, impacting so many Syrians, the international community, as well as the lives of some Syrian citizens, and many others in the neighboring region.
Some of these issues have been aired on the world stage. For example, we recently exposed what the death toll in Syria’s war, primarily because of Syrian airstrikes, means for the men, women and children who make up the majority of the casualties. We’ve also looked at mass displacement, detained men and boys, where they are, what rights they have, how they should be treated, and whether they belong in prison or not.
In terms of politics, as Yarmouk is covered, two key issues that have to do with the Syrian conflict stand out: the extensive devastation that parts of Yarmouk have been subjected to, and the protection of its residents at a time that Syria is going through a crisis with no sign of stability.
Only a few days after the 2018 Mosul offensive was launched in Iraq, the Egyptian authorities blocked travel to Jordan by those from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. This move came after a week of news that those from Yarmouk were being held at a detention center outside of the Jordanian capital of Amman.
First the military said that Yarmouk Palestinians had no place in the wider Syria crisis, and was pushed into violence and war. Then the government said that it would not exempt anyone from laws that protect “national security and the unity of Syria,” which included the Yarmouk camp Palestinians.
It’s impossible to tell from where the government of President Bashar al-Assad will draw these lines, whether these will be legal restrictions or whether they are in some way political, given its recent focus on Palestinian refugees.
The news that such restrictions were in place suggests that the priority of the government is to keep Yarmouk Palestinian refugees from travel out of the country. But the initial announcement that the authorities would implement travel restrictions on Yarmouk Palestinians was a sign of more than concern.
This back-and-forth from one country to another must raise red flags about each country’s commitment to enforcing international humanitarian law. This was not the first time Egyptians had banned certain Palestinians, or Egypt generally, from traveling abroad. But it was the first time the ban targeted Palestinians from the camp itself.
As with each incident of government interference with Palestinians’ freedom of movement, the goal may have been related to public relations for a country. No-one has ever disputed that Syrians have suffered as a result of fighting. And one could argue that Egypt itself has suffered as a result of Syria’s war. But Egypt now has real infrastructure to access parts of its own territory and it could not have anticipated the wider consequences that these travel restrictions may have.
As the flight of Palestinians from Yarmouk Camp continues, it’s important to remember that Syria has struggled to do the same, despite claims by the opposition as well as the UN. And it’s unclear as to the method or intent of Egyptian authorities who restricted Palestinian travel in general, and the camp specifically.
Even as some Palestinian leaders speak out in support of efforts to get Palestinians out of Syria, other leaders in Yarmouk camp appear less interested in coming out publicly.
These events have exposed tensions within Yarmouk camp and resulted in some Palestinians coming out in support of their Egyptian host.
On their part, Egyptian officials insist that they are protecting Palestinians from some violence that has been taking place in Syria. But sometimes other problems are present: an effective prohibition on travel in two places that hurt one community at the expense of another, as well as a mismatch between priorities in an era when some of the war’s victims may be using violence as a tool to protect themselves.
We’ve reached the six-year mark in the Syrian conflict and have seen a huge proportion of Syrians and Palestinians flee. With no end in sight, it is clear that there are many problems emerging, both on the ground and for the Syrian and international communities who are dealing with them.