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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Syria's Rukban camp on verge of humanitarian catastrophe

Delivery of desperately needed aid was delayed from entering the isolated camp

Syrian civilians inside Al Rukban camp. AFP
Syrian civilians inside Al Rukban camp. AFP

Syrian civilians isolated in a desert camp near the Jordanian border are at risk of starvation and death after a UN envoy carrying much needed aid deliveries was postponed, in what is fast becoming the civil war's latest humanitarian catastrophe.

Al Rukban camp is home to some 50,000 residents who are trapped inside after Jordan closed its border with Syria following an attack on its soldiers by ISIS in 2016. Desperately needed aid deliveries have repeatedly failed or been postponed, including a UN convoy that was supposed to enter last Thursday but has now been indefinitely delayed.

"We were informed by the UN that on October 25 an aid convoy will arrive to the camp, but on that morning we received a letter from the UN that informed us that the delivery was postponed until October 29, but we still have not received any new supplies," Khalid Al Ali, a resident inside the camp told The National.

The camp is home to some 65,000 people and many of them are women and children who are camped outside in the open desert.

"There are no words to describe the tragic situation inside the camp, it is deteriorating minute by minute, especially after the storm that has hit us," Mr Al Ali said, adding that medical and food supplies are running low.

Amman has refused to allow supplies to cross its border, saying the camp is Syria’s responsibility. But Syria-based aid agencies have been unable to deliver supplies due to security clearances from armed groups and from the Damascus government.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Aymen Safadi said the road to Al Rukban camp is now accessible from the Syrian territories and that aid could reach it from inside Syria.

"Meeting the needs of the camp's community is a responsibility shared by the UN and Syria," Mr Safadi said.

The camp lies within a 55 kilometre so-called de-confliction zone set up by the Pentagon with the aim of blocking Iranian supply routes to the region and preventing pro-regime forces from operating there.

The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, told a Security Council meeting on Monday that civilians at Al Rukban have not received any assistance since January this year, and they are increasingly desperate.

But even if the convoy had been able to deliver the shipment, civilians in the isolated camp would largely continue to remain cut off from aid, commercial shipments of food, and medical care, in an area where officials and health workers say hunger, disease, and are on the rise.

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Ali Al Zatari said that “the decision to postpone the Al Rukban humanitarian convoy, which was planned for October 2018, is based on available information of real security threat against the convoy.”

"We are determined to bring humanitarian assistance to civilians in Rukban camp, and discussions are ongoing to identify means to deliver the humanitarian assistance, while ensuring the safety of the humanitarian workers," Mr Al Zatari said.

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