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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Syrian woman sets herself and children on fire in Rukban camp

Her husband confirmed her suicide attempt saying she was driven to the act by the desperate situation

A handout photo shows SARC personnel conducting a vaccination campaign to immunise children against measles, polio and hepatitis at Rukban Camp near the Jordanian border, south-east Syria. EPA
A handout photo shows SARC personnel conducting a vaccination campaign to immunise children against measles, polio and hepatitis at Rukban Camp near the Jordanian border, south-east Syria. EPA

A woman trapped in a remote Syrian displacement camp set herself and her children on fire on Sunday in an attempted suicide which her husband said was due to dire living conditions and lack of food.

Rukban camp, described by those living there as a “hell on earth”, is home to nearly 60,000 civilians who are stuck in an isolated area of the Syrian desert near the Jordanian border. They are unable to cross over to Jordan, which barred entry, and aid agencies are unable to reach the settlement regularly.

“Sundus Fatahallah, 28, attempted to burn herself and her children with fire because of the lack of food supplies at the camp,” her husband Mohammed Al Sharkh told The National.

“We are originally from Palmyra in Homs province, and what happened to my family today is example of desperation, poverty and famine,” he said, adding that he is “exhausted” from the situation.

A health official inside the camp told The National that Mrs Fatahallah was transferred to a hospital in Jordan.

“Sundus is in a bad condition along with her one-year-old baby, her other two children are doing well,” said the official.

Earlier on Sunday, conflicting reports emerged that Mrs Fatahallah’s injuries were the result of a gas canister explosion rather than an attempted suicide. However, Mr Al Sharkh confirmed that she had in fact tried to take her life and those of her children.

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Mrs Fatahallah’s neighbours managed to put out the fire, which damaged her tent, and to get the woman and her children out.

The camp remains the most desperate settlement in the war-torn country, residents say the conditions, especially during the winter, are unbearable due to harsh environments. The camp recently flooded, washing away tents and possessions and leaving some families sheltering with other residents.

Humanitarian organizations and the United Nations have had only limited access to the Rukban camp in the berm between Jordan and Syria since its formation. The last time aid was delivered to the area was in November. Even then, residents said that aid deliveries were not enough to meet demand.

Conditions inside Rukban continue to deteriorate as aid agencies struggle to send relief to the area. Water pollution, high temperatures, unsafe human waste disposal and garbage accumulation have led to major health issues. UNHCR says diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections are the camp’s leading causes of illness.

Residents of the camp have been forced from their homes in Palymra and Homs by the war and many fled President Bashar Al Assad’s regime and ISIS.

Last year at least 20 people died due to lack of food and medical services inside the camp.

The camp has been protected by a US deconfliction zone established around a nearby garrison in the town of Al Tanf, where US forces operate alongside Pentagon-backed rebel groups, including the Maghawir Al Thawra battalion.

Yet, the surprise announcement of a US withdrawal from Syria has left many fearing attacks by government forces.

The camp’s management has urged world leaders, including President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, to ensure the safety of residents by organising to relocate the camp to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Updated: January 14, 2019 09:28 AM

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