Infant’s life hangs in the balance in al-Rukban IDP camp in Syria

Infant’s life hangs in the balance in al-Rukban IDP camp in Syria
3 min read
25 February, 2022
Born with a congenital malformation, two-week old Yaqeen is at risk of death unless she is evacuated from al-Rukban and receives specialist treatment.
The 18-day-old infant, Yaqeen al-Akeel, is hooked up to an oxygen tank. [Shared with permission of the parents]

A two-week old infant with severe medical issues in the al-Rukban IDP camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border is at risk of death barring an urgent intervention, residents of the camp told The New Arab on Thursday.

Yaqeen al-Akeel, the two-week old girl, is currently on oxygen after she was born with a congenital malformation that prevents her from breathing properly on her own. The child requires a specialist for treatment – something which far outstrips the medical capacity of the impoverished displacement camp.

The child’s parents have appealed for the daughter to be medically evacuated to a hospital with the ability to save her life, either in neighbouring Jordan or to northeast Syria, which is under control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Abd al-Rizq, the spokesperson of the US-backed Rebel Commandoes (Maghawir al-Thawra, MaT) opposition armed group, told The New Arab that while the clinicians on al-Tanf base provided “all necessary services for her, she needs a specialist hospital”. Al-Tanf is a US military base.

He added that, because the Jordanian border is closed, Yaqeen would have to be taken to areas controlled by the Syrian regime for treatment.

Fatima al-Shihab, the mother of Yaqeen, told The New Arab that going to regime-held areas would be “impossible,” as her husband was a member of the Free Syrian Army, an opposition militia, and is wanted by the regime.

Returnees from al-Rukban, especially those with opposition ties, have reportedly faced arrest, disappearance and even death upon arrival to regime-held territory.

Yaqeen’s desperate situation highlights the precarious and dangerous conditions in al-Rukban camp, where some 10,000 Syrians have languished without access to decent food and medical care for years. Syrian regime forces have enforced a blockade against the US-controlled area since 2018, and Jordan stopped allowing aid to enter from its territory.

The camp now relies on just two smugglers for all of its goods, leading to mass malnutrition. Residents have also had no access to qualified medical care since March 2020, after Jordan closed the UNICEF clinic that used to service al-Rukban – citing COVID-19 related concerns.

US-led Coalition Forces control the area, but have refused to offer aid to the population – with senior US officials insisting that the responsibility for doing so lies with Damascus. The New Arab asked the Coalition for a comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publishing.

The nurse overseeing the child’s care appealed for Jordan – just a few kilometers away from the camp – to take in Yaqeen. “Every living conscience and every human being has a responsibility towards the children of this camp,” she told The New Arab.

Medical emergencies, especially complications related to pregnancies, are relatively frequent in al-Rukban. Getting treatment for those affected is always a challenge, with civilians appealing to activists for help.

In one such instance in November 2020, a C-section was carried out on a woman by nurses whose only qualification was an online course. With the advising of doctors over Zoom, the nurses were able to save both the mother and the child’s life.

Having to scramble for ad-hoc solutions and 11th hour treatments have left the residents of al-Rukban feeling insecure and abandoned by the international community.

“If the international community just had a conscience and could empathise with the feeling of a mother that is losing her child in front of her very eyes… We’ve lost hope in any international organisations … all of them have betrayed us,” said al-Shihab.