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Unfair solutions to al-Rukban displacement camp’s crisis

Displaced people of al-Rukban camp (Syrian Red Crescent)

Displaced people of al-Rukban camp (Syrian Red Crescent)

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The residents of the desolate Rukban displacement camp in eastern Syria face very difficult humanitarian conditions, amid lack of basic necessities including food supplies, water, and medical care. 

Their sufferings are exacerbated after Russia prevented the entry of UN food assistance to the camp and Jordan refused to provide any support through its territory.  

The United Nations (UN) has failed to pass a food aid shipment to the displaced people of the “ al-Rukban” camp, which is located near the Syria-Jordan border.

The Political and Public Relations Authority of al-Rukban organized a protest on 25 April in the al-Rukban camp, against the suspension of food aid that would have been provided to the camp’s residents and area “55.”

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Shukri al-Shehab, the head of the Political and Public Relations Authority of al-Rukban in the Syrian Badia said that “the Russian pressure caused the stoppage of aid entry to the camp.”

Al-Shehab added, “we were negotiating a method to access and deliver aid to the camp, but we were surprised later by the suspension of aid and the withdrawal of the UN workers from the outskirts of the area “55” to Damascus, and we tried to  communicate with the UN representatives to return it, but without response.”

The UN representatives, the notables, and representatives of the al-Rukban camp agreed to introduce 2,300 food aid baskets to the camp initially, before the Russian forces refused to allow the provision of the aid, according to the supervisory committee of the camp.

The negotiations also included granting aid to areas inhabited by civilians,  close to the camp in the Syrian Badia, such as Zarqa and al-Hakal.

After the failure to enter the aid, the UN expressed its grave concern at the worsening humanitarian situation in the al-Rukban camp due to the lack of food supplies and medical assistance to the displaced. 

High food prices 

Al-Rukban camp has been under a stifling siege since last February. The number of displaced in the al-Rukban camp is between eight to nine thousand, al-Shehab reported. 

The camp residents suffer from food shortages, and if food items are available, their prices will be very high. For example, the price of a kilo of sugar is 1,200 Syrian pounds ( SYP-about one USD), which is very high compared to its price in Damascus which is about 500 SYP (0.38 USD). 

The price of a bag of brown flour reaches 40,ooo SYP (30.8 USD) while a bag of white flour amounts to 55,000 SYP (42.4 USD). Besides, the price of a kilo of vegetables of all kinds is not less than 1,600 SYP (1.2 USD).

Food supplies are entered into the camp through the Syrian regime-held areas of the eastern Suwaida countryside and Rif Dimashq or by some smugglers, beneficiaries, or officers of the Syrian regime in exchange for money, the media activist, Saeed Saif told Enab Baladi

Saif added “ even if the foodstuffs are available, the camp residents are too poor to afford them because they do have a source of income. Moreover, they are not engaged in industrial professions or business, which are restricted to some merchants.”

The camp lacks lentils, rice, and other basic materials used in cooking, vegetables, and fruits, and these materials are often stored, and as such, they reach the camp semi-spoiled.

Jordan’s position

The Jordanian government refused to allow any kind of humanitarian assistance to be delivered to the displaced people of the al-Rukban camp through its territories, on the pretext that the camp is located in Syrian territory and Jordan has nothing to do with it, according to a statement issued by Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Ayman Safadi.

Safadi published the statement on its Twitter account, after talks with the Geir Pedersen, the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria on 20 April. 

Safadi added that “ al-Rukban camp is not Jordan’s responsibility since the ability to meet its need from within Syria is available. Our priority is the health of our citizens. We are in a fight against the coronavirus so that we will not take a risk, allowing anyone from the camp to enter Jordan.”

Commenting on Jordan’s position, Shukri al-Shehab, the head of the Political and Public Relations Authority of al-Rukban in the Syrian Badia said that the provision of humanitarian aid has been suspended for two years through Jordan, and currently the aid is limited to providing water only. 

The Jordanian government closed its borders with Syria, last March, in light of its precautionary measures to prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, and it became impossible for the camp residents to reach the United Nations-supported medical clinic on the Jordanian side of the border.

The suffering of pregnant women

Although the suffering of pregnant women has ended in the al-Rukban camp, they are considered as “ renewed cases,” meaning that each month new pregnant women are due to give birth, according to al-Shehab.

Al-Shehab highlighted that six pregnant women needed a cesarean section, and they had to leave for the regime-controlled areas with the help of “the Syrian Red Crescent,” adding that unfortunately, these women are left alone to face an unknown fate in exchange for saving their lives. 

Two pregnant women gave birth in the US-led coalition’s Tanf military base, which is adjacent to the camp in eastern Syria. Two other women delivered their babies in the al-Rukban camp.

The emergency medical cases and emergency cesarean sections were being transferred to Jordan in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but Jordan suspended all entry procedures for Syrians as part of precautionary measures to confront the COVID-19 and all the UNHCR centers closed their doors in the camp.

The closure of the medical points in the camp mounted the fears of the coronavirus outbreak among the displaced, and media activist Saif, in an earlier interview with Enab Baladi, said, “we cannot be sure about whether or not there is a coronavirus infection in the camp, due to the absence of doctors and coronavirus tests.”

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