Residents leaving Rukban camp amid “dire food situation”, April 2019

A leading Syrian activist group reports that the Assad regime seized 174 of the men who were forced out of the Rukban displaced persons’ camp in southeast Syria.

The Syrian Association for Citizen’s Dignity issued a statement on Saturday that the men were taken from shelters in Homs and “transferred to ‘terrorism courts’, despite having previously received security clearances from the regime”.

Local sources in Rukban confirmed to EA last week that the men were being taken away for interrogation, detention, and court appearances. They cited calls from families in Homs, denied visits with their relatives.

Syria Daily, Dec 9: Claim — Regime “Takes Away” 150 Men Moved Out of Rukban Camp

The SACD said the men, 16 of whom were named with the permission of familieis, fell into two categories:

*Defectors and those who fled compulsory military service in the Assad regime’s military and reserve forces. They were handed to the regime’s military police in the al-Qaboun section of Homs city.

*Youth who never reported for compulsory military service. They were sent to prison in Adra, north of Damascus, or to the Homs Central Prison.

Most of those seized originally came from Palmyra city or eastern Homs Province.

The activists emphasized that all of the men had been given guarantees and commitments from the regime and the Russian military Russian allies they could reach a “personal settlement” protecting them from persecution and forced conscription.

“Russia must be held accountable to explain why the arrests were possible, despite the security guarantees received by those arrested,” the SACD summarized.

Residents’ Fears Confirmed

Rukban once held more than 50,000 Syrians, displaced from their homes in central Syria in 2015 amid Islamic State assaults. More than 70% of the remaining residents are women and children.

Assad regime forces cut off the main route into Rukban in October 2018, leading to shortages of food, medicine, and vital supplies. Damascus has allowed only three UN aid convoys into the camp since January 2018. Activists and residents that even this assistance has been curbed by regime forces refusing or confiscating vital supplies.

Russia has enabled the siege with military support and sustained propaganda and disinformation operations, while 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.

In UN surveys, more than 90% of those in the camp say they wish to return to home areas, but almost all fear detentions, forced conscription, and harassment by the regime. The Rukban camp council have called on the UN to ensure transfers to opposition-held northwest Syria, rather than regime-held Homs, but have had no success.

Since transfers early this year of residents to the Homs shelters, there have been periodic reports of men taken away for interrogation and detentions. In April, three men were reportedly killed by regime personnel when they tried to stop the harassment of a woman.

Syria Daily, May 3: More Departures from Rukban Camp — and More Claims of Disappearances

The SACD repeated the call on the UN to take action to prevent the detentions, avoid forced transfers, and possibly save lives:

The UN must ensure they have a full and ongoing access to the “IDP shelters” in Homs to document and report on the status of the people kept there.

The UN must find out the circumstances of all arrests of returnees from these “IDP shelters” and promptly report to the all relevant international bodies, as well as provide appropriate information to Rukban residents to inform their decisions.