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UN official:
‘Human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history’

The following is the full text of the official press release on Jenin refugee camp issued by UNRWA, the United Nations agency charged with taking care of the Palestinian refugees:
Commissioner-General of UNRWA declares Jenin Camp a disaster area, describes damage as "colossal"
UNRWA emergency and rescue teams on site. Monumental task ahead

Jerusalem - April 18, 2002: The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, led today a UN delegation to Jenin camp to oversee UNRWA’s emergency efforts in the camp and to meet with the traumatized population. Speaking to UNRWA’s medical and emergency relief teams who were distributing medicine, food and water to the residents, Mr Hansen expressed his horror to the extensive destruction and deep sadness to the terrible loss in human life. Several UNRWA staff members who entered the Agency’s badly damaged clinic for the first time since the Israeli army occupied the camp two weeks ago were shocked by the wanton destruction of the health centre. One medical staff member broke down upon seeing the damage caused by hundreds of bullet holes fired inside the Centre by Israeli soldiers who occupied the clinic for four days wrecking havoc to medical equipment, medical files and medicine. Extensive damage to the agency’s girls’ school also took place.

The Commissioner-General told camp residents he met with that UNRWA was responding as quickly as possible to relieve their suffering and pain. The Agency succeeded in providing basic emergency assistance to the besieged camp over the last 48 hours having been denied access by the Israeli military authorities for twelve consecutive days. Mr Hansen was particularly moved when he saw camp residents sifting through the massive heaps of rubble looking for the remains of their loved ones buried underneath. After seeing the decomposed corpse of a 12-years-old and witnessing attempts by the family of an elderly man picking body parts of their father’s corpse buried underneath his house, Mr Hansen underscored the immediate need for an organized effort to uncover the buried bodies.

In order to address the possibility of people being alive under the rubble and the danger of possible unexploded ordnance, UNRWA has been in immediate contact with donor countries regarding the urgent dispatch of search and rescue teams to Jenin camp. Two Swiss experts are already on site working closely with UNRWA’s emergency teams.

Work is also underway to bring in the needed equipment to clear the rubble. A meeting between Mr Hansen and other UN officials with the Governor and the Mayor of Jenin was held on the same day to coordinate efforts to bring back essential services, such as water and electricity to the camp. UNRWA informed the Palestinian officials that it is planning the reconstruction of the devastated area so that the camp residents could be rehoused as soon as possible.

Asked by one camp resident about his own impression of what he witnessed in the camp, the Commissioner-General said: “I had hoped that the horror stories of Jenin were exaggerated and influenced by the emotions engaged but I am afraid these were not exaggerated and that Jenin camp residents lived through a human catastrophe that have few parallels in recent history”.
Source: (pictures of Jenin destruction on this page were also taken by UNRWA photographer Paul McCaun, more on the above site).

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