Displaced Syrians in the Rubkan camp near the Jordanian border (File)

Local activists claim that the Assad regime has taken away about 150 displaced Syrian men who were moved out of the besieged Rukban camp in southeast Syria.

The activists say young men, who left Rukban in the spring, have been removed from shelters in Homs. Omar al-Homsi, who is still in Rukban, said the men were taken to a prison near al-Baath University — “it is considered one of the worst Syrian prisons” — or to courts and military sites in Damascus.

Al-Homsi said relatives who are still in Rukban were told by families in Homs of the news. The Homs families said that, when they asked to visit the men in shelters, they were told of the removals.

Another resident in Rukban told EA that 500 young men in the al-Bayadah shelter were separated from others in the facility earlier this month. On Thursday 130 were arrested and taken to unknown locations. The remaining 370 are still in the shelter, but relatives fear they will soon be arrested as well.

The Besieged Camp

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.

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.

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.

There is only a rudimentary clinic in the camp, staffed by nurses, with basic supplies. Although emergency cases are supposed to be evacuated to Jordan, residents — including pregnant women and women in childbirth — have died from inadequate treatment and the lack of medicine.

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.

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

The Rukban camp council have called on the UN to ensure transfers to opposition-held northwest Syria, rather than regime-held Homs. They have accused the organization of effectively aiding the Assad regime in pressure on residents to depart despite the fear of intimidation, detention, and forced conscription.

Rukban sources told EA that the UN was supposed to deliver aid at the end of November. However, the convoy was turned back by Syrian rebels when it did not have medicine and winter clothes for newborns.

The authorities had said in September, after a rare UN delivery, “It promised before to allow food and medicine into the camp but it didn’t fulfill this promise.”

See also Syria Daily, Dec 4: UN Fails Again to Help Displaced in Rukban Camp