“Our conditions cause the heart to bleed. They can be summarized with our children who walk around barefooted, spending their day in collecting plastic and cork to make a fire for cooking”. These are the words with which the Head of Rukban Camp’s Local Council Engineer Swayed al-Naqlan has described the camp’s situation, following several media reports about the displacement of hundreds of people from Rukban to the areas under the Syrian regime’s control in the past period, which brought back to memory the dire humanitarian conditions which the camp is enduring and the military threat bordering it.
The camp’s crisis at the Syrian-Jordanian borders in the desert has inflated after it was announced as a closed military zone when a car bomb attacked a Jordanian military position in 2017.
In his interview with Enab Baladi, engineer al-Naqlan explained that about 50% of the camp’s families are threatened with famine and lack of food, for all the aids distributed, last and this year, could not have lasted for more than two months, and the price of a water barrel, absent in the camp, has reached 700 Syrian pounds while a bread package’s price rose to more than 700 Syrian pounds.
Among the people who are capable of working, unemployment covers 90% amidst the absence of police or any form of authority and the limitations of medical care, the responsibility of which is being undertaken by volunteer nurses.
The Regime’s Settlement Agreements are “Alluring”
The Syrian regime and its Russian alley are issuing reports about moving hundreds of people towards the “safe” areas under the regime’s control, but the spokesperson of the “Free Army” Faction “Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo” said that “we cannot say that there is a declared settlement agreement,” for the process is conducted individually and secretively; the regime is sending people to the camp, who spread the idea of “returning to homeland’s bosom.”
The process centralizes on the potential of the people’s return to their homes without any form of harassment, in addition to giving a six months duration for wanted people, those who carried arms up and the military service escapees. The settlement agreement, a legalization deal, also proposes the possibility of forming national committees to protect the displaced people, in case the “Islamic State” attempted to progress to their areas and to participate in the battles against it.
According to the official spokesperson, it is difficult to identify the people whom the regime is sending, considering the camp’s location in the desert and the many entrances it has and which the faction cannot supervise.
In the camp’s surrounding, two US-backed “Free Army” function, “Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo” and the “Revolutionary Commando Army”.
Military Reasons Justify the Fresh Displacement
The funds offered to the “Free Army” factions were cut early in 2017, which the spokesperson considers as the main reason behind the civilians’ departure, for the monthly salary, about 200 dollars, was their source of income for many years; it used to help them face the woes of the camp life.
An official source in the camp, who refused to reveal his name, expressed fear over the rumors about the withdrawal of the US base from al-Tanf, for its absence would make the camp’s people an easy prey to the regime’s forces.
Washington links the “al-Tanf” base’s removal with its negotiations with Russia and Israel concerning Southern Syria, amidst the Syrian regime’s preparations to launch a military attack against the area.
As for the possible settlements between the regime and the military factions, the source explained that some factions are currently trying to do that, in a manner similar to the Qalamun area. “They want to surrender their weaponry in return for allowing them a way to Northern Syria towards Idlib and Jarabulus,” he said.
However, the “al-Abdo” Faction spokesperson denied this at the time, adding that they do not know how the matters will develop in the future.
The sources pointed out that some factions and their leaders are imposing pressure on the camp’s residents to convince them not to leave and flee the camp, which was already refuted by “Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo”
Returning to an Anonymous Fate
Concerning the number of returnees, the military spokesperson Sa’id Sayif pointed out that the faction has counted over than 200 people who passed the regime’s checkpoints on the Damascus-Baghdad highway, who the regime have concentrated in the Al-Dumayr Airbase’s training camps, to transfer them later on to Daraa. The fleeing people are from Palmyra, Mahin and al-Dumayr, and a few of them belong to the northeastern areas, in addition to a small segment from the eastern countryside of Homs and rural as-Suwayda, pointing out that movement out of the camp has ceased for now.
The returnees’ fate is ambiguous, especially that there is no guarantor to these settlements. However, the absence of violations of the Qalamun agreement has encouraged civilians and gave them “reassurances” to accept these legalization deals.
Still, the spokesperson has warned against the fact that the young men’s future is not known for sure, and he did not eliminate the possibility of the regime’s conduction of raids and detention campaigns to thrust them in the very front line of the battles against the “Islamic State,” which have already started in the past weeks in the eastern countryside of as-Suwayda.
About Rukban Camp
The camp is located in a desert area at the Syrian-Jordanian borders, near the al-Tanf area. It was constructed in 2014 and houses over 70 thousand Syrian IDPs, most of whom came from the rural parts of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Homs and Hama.
Jordan perceives the camp’s difficulties a Syrian, not a Jordanian, affair, since it is located on a Syrian territory, fearing the refugees’ entry to the kingdom. It has also intensified censorship on the borders, especially after the attack that targeted a border Jordanian military position in 2017.
In 2017, UN managed to admit tow portions of aids only to the camp; Jordan, early in 2018, has also allowed the entry of relief aids for once.
The camp is run by a local civil council of the area’s distinguished personalities and clan chiefs, as well as civil entities.