Forgotten Syrians in a stranded desert camp stage sit-in, asking for aid

Forgotten Syrians in a stranded desert camp stage sit-in, asking for aid
Residents of Al-Rukban camp regularly call on the UN and the US-led coalition to help them address the dire humanitarian situation in the camp, which is besieged by the Syrian regime with no access to aid.
3 min read
05 December, 2021
Al-Rukban residents receive almost no humanitarian assistance, which has pushed thousands of them to leave the camp despite the risks they face in other parts of Syria [Konstantin Machulsky\TASS via Getty]

Residents of Al-Rukban camp in southern Syria launched a sit-in on Sunday to protest the lack of humanitarian aid reaching the camp, according to reports by humanitarian volunteers who assist the camp.

"The situation in Rukban is a metaphor for the UN’s and international community’s failure to protect or even provide essential humanitarian aid to a very vulnerable population," Simone Jeger, a humanitarian activist who has been supporting families in the camp for several years, told The New Arab

"As forgotten and neglected this place may be, no party can say they didn’t know. People have been calling on all of them but all they received was ignorance or empty promises at best," Jeger added.

The camp residents called on the US-led international coalition to provide basic relief to the camp, in light of the inability of other humanitarian actors to reach them.

On the first day of the sit-in, the US-led coalition denied reports issued by the Syrian state-run news agency SANA of two explosion inside its military base of al-Tanf, located just a few kilometres from the camp. 

Al-Rukban is located in the Syrian desert at the border with Jordan and near the Al-Tanf base, from which the US-led coalition carries out operations against the Islamic State group [IS] in Syria and Iraq. The camp is besieged by the Syrian regime and relies on networks of smugglers to obtain basic items like food.

Residents of Al-Rukban are entirely cut off from aid, with the exception of water supplied from the Jordanian side of the border and of some food, medicine or tarpaulins purchased by individual donors and smuggled into the camp.

The last UN convoy  to reach the camp with humanitarian aid was in September 2019. The UN has since managed to access to the camp area to organise humanitarian returns towards regime-controlled areas of Syria, but residents say there were no aid deliveries.

Limited aid reached the camp until 2016, when Jordan fully sealed the border after a fatal attack on security forces by Islamic State group militants. The situation further worsened when a UNICEF-run medical access point, which used to arrange the transfer of critical patients to Jordan, was closed in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Jordan. Medical services have remained interrupted since. 

There are no reliable updated estimates of the camp population, which used to be home to between 50,000 to 70,000 refugees, most of which arrived from the region of Homs and Palmyra in eastern Syria.

Thousands have left over the years through smuggling routes and UN-organised humanitarian corridors.