Those affected include an estimated 450,000 Palestinian refugees who remain in Syria after nearly five years of violence that has claimed a quarter of a million lives, according to the UN.
Last week marked the third anniversary of the start of the mass flight of the majority of the 150,000 residents of Yarmouk – the largest Palestinian population center in the country, and home to many Syrians – after rebel forces entered the camp and its central mosque was hit in government airstrikes.
Since then, electricity and water supplies to the camp on the outskirts of Damascus have been cut and a complete siege was imposed by government forces and allied groups in July 2013.
Dozens of the thousands still trapped inside the camp starved to death that following winter, and many more have been killed during clashes and ongoing shelling and strikes on Yarmouk.
In April this year, the camp was infiltrated by fighters with the Islamic State group and various armed factions continue to vie for control of this southern gateway to the capital at the expense of its remaining civilian population.
Yarmouk is not the only Palestinian refugee camp that has been affected by the devastating war.
Ein al-Tal, Deraa, Husseiniyeh, Sbeineh and Khan Eshieh “have suffered significant shelling, destruction and the massive displacement of their populations,” according to a paper published by the Palestinian think tank al-Shabaka.
Government forces have cut off Khan Eshieh from neighboring Damascus since June.
The Palestinian civil society group Jafra Foundation for Relief and Youth Development stated last week that “Since 2011, more than 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been forcibly displaced from their camps.”
A further estimated 100,000 Palestinians remain in areas with restricted humanitarian access, according to the group.
The UN stated this week that 4.5 million people live in areas of Syria that are difficult for humanitarian aid agencies to reach, and nearly 400,000 are trapped in besieged areas, including some Palestinian camps.
From September to November this year, the UN was able to access “only 32 percent of the hard-to-reach locations.”
As result, “only around 1 percent of the besieged population received food aid, and less than 1 percent health care.”
The Security Council stated on Tuesday that almost 14 million people in Syria require urgent humanitarian aid and called on all parties, particularly the government, to immediately lift access restrictions and let in vital assistance.
The body also condemned “the widespread use of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary executions, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence, as well as grave violations and abuses committed against children.”
Millions now refugees
An estimated 4.2 million people have fled the country, most of them women and children, according to the UN.
A further 6.5 million people are internally displaced within Syria – nearly half of the remaining population.
Most of those who left are in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Nine out of 10 Syrians in Jordan and Lebanon live below the poverty lines of their host countries.
“Not having been allowed to work legally, refugees are increasingly vulnerable, dependent on scarce humanitarian assistance, and forced to go into debt to feed their families,” António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told the Security Council on Monday.
“Only half of all refugee children are in school,” Guterres added.
Syria is meanwhile experiencing a massive brain drain, UNHCR found after surveying 1,200 refugees from the country in Greece, almost half of them university-educated.
Of the nearly one million people who reached Europe by boat this year, more than half of them were Syrians, according to the commissioner.
More than 3,700 people perished while attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Palestinians fleeing the carnage in Syria face particular hardship, including a non-entry policy in Jordan, harsh entry and residency restrictions in Lebanon and unclear legal status in Turkey, according to al-Shabaka.
Such barriers to finding safe refuge have compelled many Palestinians to embark on clandestine journeys to Europe, which, al-Shabaka states, “require those who take them to sacrifice their life savings and are filled with uncertainty and danger.”
These dangers, al-Shabaka adds, include “being abandoned by smugglers before reaching their destination; of being cheated out of their money by smugglers without making it to Europe; of being shot at, arrested or detained by the authorities at points of departure; of being arrested, detained and even tortured along the way or upon arrival by European authorities; or of drowning during the crossing of the Mediterranean.”
Palestinians in Syria
Before the upheaval in Syria began in early 2011, there were more than half a million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN in the country.
Of the 450,000 estimated to remain, most are internally displaced within Syria.
The Action Group for Palestinians of Syria has registered the names of more than 3,000 Palestinians in the country killed since 2011.
Approximately 1,300 Palestinian refugees have been detained or disappeared in the country, according to the group.
Most Palestinian refugees in Syria were forced from their homes during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, or are the descendents of those who were displaced.
For decades Israel has denied them and millions of other Palestinian refugees their right to return to their homeland.