A boy holds a tarpaulin supplied by private donors to the Rukban camp for displaced persons in southeast Syria, December 2020


For the first time in years, an international medical team has entered the Rukban camp to assess and treat some of the 12,000 displaced civilians in the area.

Residents and humanitarian activists confirmed to EA WorldView that the team saw about 50 patients on Monday and carried out four operations.

Abd al-Rizq, a spokesman for the anti-Assad faction Maghawir al-Thawra, told The New Arab of the clinic. He said it was open for only one day to “examine patients with chronic conditions”, hoping it could resume treatment of civilians soon.

However, a camp resident told EA WorldView that the medics will return next week with more advanced equipment for further operations.

While in the camp, the team spoke with residents about conditions amid the 40-month Russia-Assad regime siege, including access to food and subsistence amid shortages of essentials and inadequate shelter.

A resident, “Hussam”, said to The New Arab that the medical care is “an amazing achievement”: “We used to be afraid of getting ill because there was no treatment here. Sometimes cases had to be sent to [Assad-held territory] and some of them died in regime hospitals.”

He credited the residents’ sit-ins, launched outside the US military base at Tanf last autumn, for the breakthrough

ORIGINAL ENTRY, JAN 31: After more than two years with only rudimentary medical care, some of the 12,000 displaced civilians in and near the Rukban camp in southeast Syria are receiving treatment.

Local activists, residents, and the anti-Assad faction Mughawir al-Thawra confirmed that 50 residents have been transported to a new medical center inside the US military base at Tanf, in eastern Syria on the Iraq border.

MAT commander Muhannad al-Tala’ had texted contacts that US forces had obtained approval to open a clinic. MAT confirmed the news on Twitter on Monday.

The 50 most seriously ill patients, based on a needs assessment in Rukban last week, were admitted this morning. Common serious conditions among residents include diabetes, renal failure, heart conditions; malnutrition, skin disease, and Coronavirus as well as those who need adjustment of prostheses. The clinic is also equipped to perform Caesarean sections.

A local activist said capacity can be expanded to 100 patients per day, adding, “EVERYONE in Rukban needs to see a physician.”

According to a well-placed camp resident, the State Department and the Defense Department both approved the clinic.

The Start of Significant Assistance?

Amid the Russia-Assad regime siege of Rukban from autumn 2018, the US military — possibly to avoid tension with the Russians — had held off on medical care for Rukban residents beyond isolated emergency cases. The last UN clinic near the camp, across the border in Jordan, closed in March 2020. The facility inside the camp has no doctors, and nurses with basic training have had little medicine beyond paracetamol. Residents and activists appealed on a case-by-case basis for transport of the seriously ill across the Jordanian border — closed by Amman in 2016 following an Islamic State suicide bombing — to a medical point.

The situation shifted in late 2021 when Coronavirus finally entered the camp, putting thousands at risk. Residents began the sit-ins outside Tanf, while activists desperately sought aid and finally obtained masks and three oxygen cylinders.

A camp resident noted that the sit-ins, which began last autumn, appeared to be a catalyst for the US military to act over the medical crisis: “The American team wanted to provide assistance, and the sit-ins helped it to put pressure on decisionmakers in the United States.”

See also Amid Coronavirus, Oxygen Finally Reaches Rukban Camp for Displaced Syrians

A local activist said that today’s breakthrough may be just the first stage of support for the 12,000 displaced, with food and education to follow.

Amid its siege of the camp, the Assad regime has only allowed three UN aid convoys since January 2018, the last of which was in September 2019.