Displaced protest “the biggest prison on earth: hunger, thirst, illness, death, fear, injustice”, Rukban, Syria, March 2, 2019
Hoping to forcibly move more than 40,000 displaced Syrians, Russia has maintained its lies about the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Jordanian border.
The displaced fled to the barren area of Rukban in 2015 when the Islamic State attacked their home areas. They have been trapped in camps since Jordan closed the border in June 2016, following an Islamic State suicide bombing that killed several of its border personnel.
The Assad regime has cut routes to the camp and allowed only two aid deliveries in 14 months. Dozens of residents have died from inadequate food and medical care, and the UN has warned that thousands of children are at risk.
But many residents are concerned about a move back to their home areas.
More than 90% said in a survey last month, carried out by UN personnel, that they wish to leave. However, Reena Ghelani, a director at the UN’s humanitarian affairs and emergency relief office, explained, “All of those consulted, regardless of their profile or tribal affiliation, have concerns related to the situation at the destination….[These include] access to their property and concerns related to their safety and security, particularly the fear of detention and military conscription”.
Moscow blamed “militants” and the US military for preventing departures, and tried to organize a “green bus” convoy last weekend to forcibly remove the displaced. They were met by protests, and the convoy was called off. The Russian “Center for Reconciliation” insisted that US personnel, at the Tanf base near the Iraqi border, had refused permission for the green buses to enter.
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry returned to its unsupported depiction of the situation.
“The Rukban camp has long lost its status and turned into a reservation area where hostages are held forcibly,” the Ministry declared.
It added ominously, “A fresh cemetery with 300 fresh graves has been uncovered on the southern side immediately outside the camp’s fence.”
Russian State media implied the deaths were from “makeshift settlements…unfit for the living of people in winter” and “anti-sanitary conditions”. They did not note the likelihood that the conditions are due to the Assad regime siege and blocking of aid, rather than “militants” and the US military.
Instead, the Defense Ministry asserted without evidence that the American force — Rukban is within a 55-km security zone around the Tanf base and “militants…are forcibly holding [residents], demanding large sums of money in US dollars to let them out”.
And the Ministry blatantly lied, in light of the UN survey, that “35,000” of the displaced want to return to regime-held areas.