Residents of the Rukban camp protest conditions and a regime siege, southeast Syria, October 10, 2018 (Omar a-Shawi)
Displaced Syrians in the besieged Rukban camp in southeast Syria have criticized the UN, as another 150 have given way to pressure and shortages and returned to home areas.
The group were transported by bus on Sunday from the barren area, near the Jordanian border, to regime-held Homs in central Syria. They were accompanied by a delegation from the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
Assad regime forces cut off the main route into Rukban in October 2018, leading to shortages of food, medicine, and vital supplies. The regime has allowed only three UN aid convoys into the camp since January 2018. Russia has enabled the siege with military support and sustained propaganda and disinformation operations. The blockade has been compounded by Jordan’s closure of the border in June 2016 after an Islamic State suicide attack.
The US military has refused to provide assistance, fearing a confrontation with Moscow, even though Rukban is within a 55-km (34-mile) security zone around the American base at Tanf on the Iraqi border.
Rukban once held more than 50,000 Syrians, displaced from their homes in 2015 by ISIS assaults. The UN estimates there are now about 13,000 defying the Russia-regime pressure and threats of starvation and lack of medical care. More than 70% are women and children.
In UN surveys, more than 90% of residents say they wish to return to home areas, but almost all fear detentions, forced conscription, and harassment by the regime.
“UN Has Deceived Us”
A statement last week by Rukban’s local council, given to EA, said this month’s UN aid delivery had failed to provide food to some families.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the delivery, completed Sunday, successfully delivered a month’s aid for the residents. He said 329 had chosen to leave.
But the council reiterated, “The United Nations has deceived the camp’s residents. It promised before to allow food and medicine into the camp but it didn’t fulfil this promise.” The council called for an investigation into the alleged failure.
Council spokesperson Shukri Shihab accused the UN delegation of pressing the displaced to leave.
“The UN delegation were unseemly in handling the al-Rukban camp’s affairs. We refused to deal with or meeting it,” Shihab said.
A local journalist told EA that the UN and Red Crescent prevented him from filming their operation: “Not just me, but everyone even carrying a mobile who wanted to film the process of taking out those who wish to return to the areas of control of the Syrian regime”.
Meanwhile, residents protested against any buses entering the camp, saying it would be a “symbolic victory for the regime over the oppressed and bereaved people”.
The council said it will not further UN delegations into camp unless they bring supplies for all those who wish to remain.
Residents are calling for Rukban to be placed under the protection of the US-led coalition protection and supported to become a sustainable village. Any resident who wishes to leave should be allowed to go to opposition-held northwest Syria.