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Al-Rukban Camp Between Two Fires: Settlement Or Blockade 

IDPs of al-Rukban camp, August 2019 (Alaraby)

IDPs of al-Rukban camp, August 2019 (Alaraby)

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Al- Rukban camp which lies on the Syrian-Jordanian border, remains an arena of conflict  between the United States and Russia. Whereas the latter is demanding a full evacuation of camps and the transfer of civilians to areas controlled by the Syrian regime forces, Washington calls for the evacuation of the internally displaced  under its supervision and  in liaison with the United Nations (UN), to ensure a safe and voluntary departure for the civilians, as well as maintain the status quo as a step to reinforce its military presence in the area.

Between Washington and Moscow, their ongoing conflict over a narrow and isolated geographic spot on the border, the civilians trapped there, living under hard humanitarian conditions, are the ones paying the price, because of a blockade imposed by the Syrian regime and the paucity of donations provided by the UN and humanitarian organizations.

 Al-Rukban camp has been under siege since June 2018, creating a humanitarian crisis due to the absence of food and relief assistance in its desolate area on the border with Jordan. The UN declared at the beginning of July that 15,600 people have abandoned the camp since Russia opened its “humanitarian” corridors   for civilians in March, while about 26 thousand persons remain to suffer the “miserable living conditions.”

Human rights organizations noted that in the recent months, civilians who returned to the Syrian regime-controlled areas faced arrest, and they had to live at schools in the eastern countryside of Homs under conditions not very different from the ones they tolerated at the remote camp.

 

UN ready to evacuate IDPs of al-Rukban camp

 On August 30, 2019, Public Relations and Political Authority of the Rukban camp  which is located on the Syrian- Jordanian border, announced that it rejected the initiative established by the Russian center for reconciliation of the conflicting sides in Syria and the results of a UN survey conducted in cooperation with the Syrian Red Crescent regarding the evacuation of thousands of displaced persons in the camp to regime-held areas.

The authority justified its rejection in a statement published on its Facebook page, highlighting that the UN had discharged its responsibility towards civilians leaving the camp to the government-controlled areas, and to what they might be subjected such as  “possible reprisals, detentions or forced conscription.”

A  UN delegation visited al-Rukban camp to study the situation of the displaced and carried out a questionnaire among the camp’s residents as to whether they would prefer to leave the camp or stay, the camp’s spokesman and Deputy Head of Public Relations and Political Authority office, Shukri al-Shahab, told Enab Baladi.

The Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria announced on August 30 that Moscow is seeking to secure a safe exit route for the displaced persons to 25 shelters near Homs. The  UN,  for its part, announced that 47% of the displaced want to remain at the camp for “security” reasons.

 

Random camp

Al-Rukban camp, located on the demilitarized border zone with Jordan with a length of seven kilometers and a depth of three kilometers, was set up randomly at the end of 2015, to accommodate displaced persons from the cities of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and eastern Homs after the Islamic State (IS) took control of them. 

Al-Rukban camp initially accommodated 100,000 displaced persons, and the number of IDPs dropped to 60,000  due to the deterioration of the living conditions. 

The Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria proclaimed that 500 people left the camp last month. Stephane Dujarric de la Rivière, the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, stated in July 2019 that 15,600 persons had left al-Rukban camp since March 2019, adding that the camp is still housing 26,000 displaced persons, who are dealing with “dire” living conditions.

The area in which the camp lies is under the control of the Army of Free Tribes, affiliated with the opposition. The camp was besieged following cutoffs on the international aid and the closure of the route connecting it with the Jordanian border.

 

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