Foraging for truffles helps Rukban displaced earn money
Residents of the deserted Rukban camp on the Syrian-Jordan border resort to foraging for truffles outside the camp and walking long distances in the desert since hunting the wild fungus can help the displaced people earn money, as the seasonal delicacy fetches a high price.
It is not without risks and does not generate a lot of money for the people compared to the merchants, but it is an opportunity that the residents benefit from amid difficult economic conditions as a result of the frequent closure of the roads leading to the camp by the Syrian regime forces, which prevent the entry of foodstuffs and medicines, in addition to the closure of the borders by Jordan.
The residents of Rukban camp used to go on a daily trip from early morning until late evening hours in search of truffles, part of which is sold in the camp, while the other part is sold to regime-held areas.
Rukban-based activist Omar al-Homsi told Enab Baladi that some residents ride their motorcycles, others rent a car and go out of the camp to search for truffles, covering swathes of more than tens of kilometers in remote desert areas.
The financial return of a person who collects truffles, after deducting the costs of his trip, is estimated between 30,000 and 75,000 Syrian pounds, and it depends on luck in finding truffle mushrooms, their type, and size.
There are two types of truffles available in those lands, the red one that can be stored for a longer period, and the price increases with increasing weight, and the white one, which is more expensive.
Rukban-based media activist Mahmoud Shihab told Enab Baladi that foraging for truffles has costs represented in the price of fuel, as the price of a liter of gasoline reaches 20,000 Syrian pounds, and a liter of diesel fuel reaches 10,000 Syrian pounds.
Shihab added that unemployment pushes people, especially young people, to take risks in foraging for truffles, given the “revenues,” but not enough to cover the families’ needs in the camp.
Shihab pointed out that foraging for truffles is a seasonal job that is used in a specific period. If there were other job opportunities, the displaced would not have resorted to looking for truffles.
Traders have largest profit
The prices of truffles in Rukban vary according to the type and range between 15,000 and 20,000 Syrian pounds per kilogram, and the prices of medium-sized mushrooms range between 35,000 and 50,000 Syrian pounds per kilo, which are low-quality types.
The local hunters sell their truffles to traders, who in turn smuggle the luxurious quality to regime areas where the price of one kilo may reach 140,000 Syrian pounds, according to activist Omar al-Homsi.
Hammoud al-Abdullah, a media activist based in Rukban, told Enab Baladi that the traders are the ones who control the pricing of truffles and supervise the process of smuggling them to regime-controlled areas.
The size of the truffles located in the area called “55 kilometers” is considered small, which reduces the financial returns, unlike the sizes and types of truffles in the desert of the Syrian Badia, which extends along the eastern borders between Iraq and Syria and northeastern Jordan.
Foraging for truffles is fraught with dangers, and over the past years, lives have been lost through killings or as a result of mine explosions.
In February, about 75 truffle hunters were killed in the Syrian Badia. The Islamic State group and Iranian forces operating in the region were accused of carrying out the attack.
The “55 km” area is considered relatively safe, as it is devoid of the regime forces and their Iranian-backed allies and the members of the Islamic State, according to al-Abdullah.
The desert region is witnessing continuous patrols by the International Coalition, which worked with the US-backed Free Syrian Army to clear it of mines, and it is forbidden to approach areas where there are mines.
The region did not record any kidnappings or killings of truffle pickers in the region, except for one incident in 2018, when the Iraqi border guards arrested a number of camp residents for 15 days, then transferred them to the Fallujah region and granted them asylum.
The United Nations warned in July 2019 of war remnants and landmines in Syria, saying it is a present threat to ten million Syrians.
Deserted camp faces disasters
Rukban camp was set up in 2014 as a crossing point for the displaced from the eastern regions of Homs, Raqqa, and Deir Ezzor towards Jordan.
Before 2018, the camp contained about 70,000 people, but the majority of its residents left towards the areas of the Syrian regime, and only 8,000 people remained, according to activists familiar with the administrative situation there.
The regime forces are tightening their siege on the camp and controlling the entry of foodstuffs, while humanitarian aid has been absent from Rukban for three years.
The camp residents suffer from an acute shortage of drinking water, lack of job opportunities, and stress on the entry of aid and materials, most notably flour, which prompted the residents to collect bread crumbs intended for fodder and use it as food after soaking it in water with chickpeas or Kishk (Traditional food made of mashed bulgur with curdled milk).
Some Rukban residents rely on handicrafts to secure their daily sustenance, such as building clay houses that the IDPs seek to replace their tents with.
In March 2020, Jordan closed the borders with the camp, including the medical point, and the Jordanian government attributed the reason for the closure to measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 and did not reopen it after controlling the epidemic.
The Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, said at the time, “(Rukban) is not Jordan’s responsibility, and that the possibility of meeting its needs from inside Syria is available. Our priority is the health of our citizens. We are fighting (Covid-19) and will not risk allowing anyone from the camp to enter.”
($1=7550 SYP) according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa, Halim Muhammad, contributed to this report.
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