Children among displaced Syrians in the Rukban camp, southeast Syria (UNHCR)

Syria Direct updates on the long-standing medical crisis in the Rukban camp for about 13,000 displaced Syrians.

The camp, which once held about 75,000 civilians, was established in autumn 2015 in the barren area of southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. Its residents fled the advance of the Islamic State in central Syria, only to face years of malnutrition and poor health.

The crisis has been exacerbated by the closure of the Jordanian border in June 2016 and by the imposition of a siege by Russia and the Assad regime in autumn 2018, cutting off the main routes into the camp. The regime has blocked any significant provision of UN assistance since 2019. The last delivery of basic medical supplies, delivered by the UN and the Syrian Red Crescent, was in February 2020.

Rukban is technically within a 50-km security zone declared by the US military around its al-Tanf base near the Iraqi border, but American personnel — unwilling to challenge Russian officials — have refused to provide assistance.

Medical assistance has only been provided for some emergency cases taken to Jordanian hospitals. In March 2020, amid the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, the UN clinic on the Jordanian side of the border was closed. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted a month later that Rukban “is not Jordan’s responsibility” and that the camp’s needs can be met “from inside Syria”.

See also Defying Siege and Shortages: Rukban Camp and 13,000 Displaced Syrians in a 7th Year

Critically Ill Are Stranded

Umm Maher tells Syria Direct that his son Maher, 15 months old, “is fighting for his life in my arms, but I can’t do anything for him”.

Maher suffers from a testicular hernia, with vomiting and a high fever. He is not alone in requiring emergency surgery. Three other children have the same condition. Two women are critically ill with uterine fibroids and continuous bleeding.

Last month, the camp authority appealed to Jordan’s King Abdullah II to allow women and children in critical condition to be admitted to Jordanian hospitals.

The alternative is treatment in regime-controlled areas. The camp’s remaining residents have withstood years of Russian-regime pressure to return to central Syria, citing detentions, harassment, and loss of property at the hands of the regime’s official and military.

Umm Maher explains, “I am not safe in regime-controlled areas. Many of those who went there to treat their families were detained and interrogated. I don’t want to lose myself and my child together.”

Abu Mahmoud, whose wife Maryam suffers from uterine fibroids and his son Mahmoud from epilepsy, sees the regime hospitals as “human slaughterhouses” — “if you can reach them without being arrested or killed”.

He ponders, “I don’t know what we did to the world to be banished and blockaded in this way.”