The United Nations has drawn on the bustling energy of two of the world's most fabled crossroads -- New York City's Times Square and Tokyo's Shibuya crossing -- to spotlight the ongoing struggle of besieged civilians trapped amid Syria's civil war, UN officials said here Friday.
The UN move launched "flashmob" and simultaneously showed on the junctions' mega-billboards the now-iconic photograph of thousands of people in a refugee camp in Damascus, the Syrian capital, waiting in line for food supplies, said the officials.
More than 100,000 people were killed and the UN estimates that some 6.3 million people have been internally displaced since the conflict broke out Syria in March 2011. More than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
The massive international social media campaign led by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which ensures the well-being of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, culminated with Thursday night's simultaneous events on either side of the globe: in New York, the Unites States, scores of people joined a flashmob vigil silently holding up pita bread to the gaunt figures on the giant screen above; in Tokyo, Japan, similarly enthusiastic crowds gathered.
When an image embodies the collective conscience of its time in a manner that is at once universally epic and deeply personal, it takes on a transformative power of its own.
The image being viewed by the crowds is jaw-dropping: it shows thousands of Palestinian refugees waiting amid the rubble of crumbling buildings to receive food aid in Yarmouk, which is a suburb on the outskirts of Damascus, and to which UNRWA and its humanitarian partners had had only sporadic access during the Syrian conflict.
Prior to the armed conflict in Syria, gYarmouk was home to more than 160,000 Palestine refugees. Since December 2012, fighting has caused at least 140,000 Palestine refugees to flee their homes in Yarmouk as armed opposition groups established a presence in the area, with government forces controlling the periphery.
After UNRWA released the photo in February, the image went " viral" and was shared millions of times via social media. UNRWA Spokesperson Christopher Gunness has said the image is "cinematic in scope," starkly revealing "vignettes of inhumanity" that have become the daily lives of those suffering in Yarmouk and, ultimately, throughout Syria.
"When an image embodies the collective conscience of its time in a manner that is at once universally epic and deeply personal, it takes on a transformative power of its own," he said.
Gunness said that the international social media campaign built around the photo, which kicked off earlier this week with a Thunderclap, reached almost double its target of 23 million, the pre-war population of Syria.
"This is the expression of a groundswell of revulsion felt around the world for the profound suffering this pitiless conflict is inflicting on millions of besieged, innocent civilians in Syria; women, children, the elderly, the sick, the dying," said Gunness.
"It was a moving act of symbolism that the image went up at the two corners of the earth and close to the UN in New York, sending a powerful message from the ordinary people of the world to the diplomatic community that we have had enough of the immense suffering resulting from a conflict that is moving into its fourth tragic year," he added.
The screenings came as UNRWA announced it has gained access to Yarmouk camp, and had delivered, since Jan. 18, 8,728 food parcels.
"This is not enough," said Gunness, recalling that the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution in late February demanding the parties grant immediate humanitarian access and has threatened further action if there is non-compliance.