Huge mega-billboards in New York & Tokyo show Syria's ongoing crisis up-close

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Giant photos of Syria's displaced show on New York sky-scrapers
A gigantic viral photo image of displaced Palestinians in the Yarmouk camp on the edge of Damascus, Syria amid severe devastation in the background shows on skyscraper buildings’ with Reuters news mega billboards in Times Square New York on March 20, 2014 as part of a UN Relief and Works Agency campaign to bring attention to the crisis in Syria. Mega billboards of the devastation in Syria is also showing simultaneously in Tokyo, Japan. In both locations flashmobs gave a silent vigil nod of respect to those who continue to suffer under the ongoing Syrian crisis. Image: Smita Sharma/UNRWA

(WNN/UN) New York, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: 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, launching a “flashmob” and simultaneously showing on the junctions’ mega-billboards the now-iconic photograph of thousands of people in a Damascus refugee camp waiting in line for food supplies. 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 last night’s simultaneous events on either side of the globe: in New York scores of people joined a flashmob vigil silently holding up pita bread to the gaunt figures on the giant screen above; in Tokyo, similarly enthusiastic crowds gathered.

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, which began in March 2011, Yarmouk was home to over 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.”

Mr. 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.

The broader #LetUsThrough initiative generated over 38.5 million social media impressions and reached over 26 million people, demanding humanitarian access to what the UN estimates are 10 million people in Syria who need assistance, including 5 million children.

“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 Mr. 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 18 January, 8,728 food parcels. “This is not enough,” said Mr. 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.

An amazing UNRWA – United Nations Relief and Works Agency iconic image showing the devastation in Syria as Palestinian refugees wait in line for food at Yarmouk refugee camp on the edge of Damascus goes viral from Times Square on Reuters news mega billboards in New York. Since January 2014 UNRWA has been sending food relief into the Yarmouk camp, which continues to need much more humanitarian assistance. This aid has struggled to reach into Syria as aid agencies have been blocked from going in. This March 2014 video is a UN media production.