Could this image really mark a turning point in the Syrian conflict?

Refugees queue to receive food supplies in the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk in Syria, 31 January 2014. Picture: UNRWA Archive

Most of you will by now have seen this picture. That fact alone makes it remarkable, as if the image itself isn’t remarkable enough. And of course it truly is a ‘remarkable’ picture; an enormous crowd of people crushed together surrounded by destroyed buildings in a devastated, apocalyptic scene. It is, as we all know now, the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, near Damascus in Syria. We know now that Yarmouk is a place of almost unimaginable suffering – 20,000 people virtually cut off from the rest of world for two years, under siege and bombardment. A place of horror.

But we’ve known this for a while. The UN and aid agencies have been trying to get into Yarmouk for months. They knew it was bad there. They have got in a few times. Some aid – some, but nowhere near enough – has gotten through. And this picture was taken almost a month ago, during one of those occasions. But the image only came out into the public domain a couple of days ago, released by UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. And now it’s gone around the world, on the wires and in the media, thanks in part to the power of social media. In the space of a few hours, it has become an iconic image of the Syrian conflict. And maybe, just maybe, it could become one of those images that does actually influence the course of events.

Last Saturday, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council finally agreed and passed a resolution requiring all sides in the Syrian conflict to provide unrestricted humanitarian access to civilians affected by the fighting. On Monday, the BBC ran a harrowing report from inside Yarmouk, having been able to gain access with UNRWA. The challenge now is to for all parties to implement the UN resolution swiftly so that aid can reach the people of Yarmouk (and numerous other places inside Syria) properly, and get them the food, water and medical assistance they so desperately need.

Distressing and powerful as it is, the UNRWA image from Yarmouk is by no means the most gruesome or graphic image to emerge from the Syrian conflict – so it’s in some way surprising that it might become an image that really does mark a turning point. But perhaps it is one of those pictures that does finally make enough people sit up and say, ‘enough is enough, this cannot be allowed to continue any longer’.

In a couple of weeks time, the 15th of March will mark the 3rd anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict. For the sake of all of the people of Syria, this picture, and what it represents, must become an image that brings about the beginning of the end of the conflict. We’ve gasped at it, shared it, zoomed into it in our millions. Surely we owe it to the people in it now to finally do something about it?

About russellphoto

Photographer and multimedia producer/editor working in international development. Also on Twitter @russellphoto
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