Russia demands US close refugee camp in southern Syria, as residents refuse to leave

Russia demands US close refugee camp in southern Syria, as residents refuse to leave
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has demanded the US control a refugee camp in territory under its indirect control in
2 min read
07 April, 2019
Russia has demanded Syrian refugees leave the camp [Getty]

Sergei Lavrov has called on the US to close the al-Rukban camp in southern Syria "as soon as possible" and slammed a "de facto occupation" by American forces stationed nearby.

Nearly 50,000 Syrians live terrible conditions at the border camp close to al-Tanf base, which has been used by the US and rebels to fight nearby Islamic State group militants.

"According to UN observers who visited the camp, most of the displaced people there want to return home, including to territories controlled by the Syrian government," Lavrov said.

"It is necessary to stop the efforts preventing their freedom. I can say this because they do not feel free in this camp."

Russia has been desperate to clear the camp, which has been under a de-facto regime siege. Despite the dire situations in the camp, the residents have refused to return to their homes in regime areas, fearing arrest, death or torture by security forces.

The UN said no civilians left Rukban when the regime and Russia opened corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave. 

Many residents are surviving on just one simple meal a day, often bread and olive oil or yoghurt, according to one resident.

Lavrov said Moscow was ready to discuss "all steps needed" to help people leave Rukban.

"The most simple and effective solution would be to end the American occupation," he said.

He claimed the US had "unilaterally announced some sort of security zone in the area" and had "refused to discuss closing the camp". 

"They argued that humanitarian convoys should be sent to the camp from government areas," he said. "But that only means that they want to make this situation permanent."

US President Donald Trump announced in December that he would withdraw American troops from Syria but national security adviser John Bolton said the following month that some forces could remain to the al-Tanf base.

He said they are part of efforts to counter the presence of Iran, the Syrian regime's other main backer, with Tehran-linked militants present in the area.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called Sunday for a meeting between American, Russian and Jordanian officials to solve the "major humanitarian issue" of Rukban.

"There can be no solution in Syria except through an American-Russian agreement supported by the international community," he said.

Syria's civil war has killed around half-a-million people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.