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Russia urges immediate evacuation of Syria's Rukban refugee camp

Russian forces in Syria's Rukban camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 February, 2019

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The Russian envoy to the UN claimed that 80 percent of Rukban's residents wanted to return to regime-controlled Syria, despite not a singly person leaving the camp.
Russia has urged the immediate evacuation of Syrian IDPs from the isolated and disaster-struck Rukban camp on the Syria-Jordan border, despite residents’ misgivings about returning to areas under Syrian regime control.

The Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that planning humanitarian convoys was a waste of time, according to official Russian news agency TASS.

The camp has been left destitute after going for over three months without vital aid deliveries, due to its isolated desert location, weather disruption and the security situation in southwestern Syria.

"We suggest a way out of the existing situation and a stable solution to the Rukban problem," Nebenzya said. "This is evacuation from the camp of all those who want this to the regions that they themselves choose," he added.

"This idea must begin to be implemented in short order, without wasting time on planning new convoys that only highlight disregard for international humanitarian law in that part of Syria," the envoy added.

Russia on Monday Russia threatened to block aid to the camp and force men into the army unless refugees leave the area.

Nebenzya also alleged that a survey carried out by UN officers in the camp showed that 95 percent of its inhabitants wanted to leave, and that 80 percent wanted to return to areas under Syrian regime control.

Despite this, when Russia opened up two “humanitarian corridors” to transport refugees back to Syria last week, not a single person used them.

The civilians fear arrest, torture and even death if they were to enter regime-held territory through the corridors.

"Not a single civilian has moved towards the corridors, because of the uncertainty of their destination after exiting the corridors," the Civil Administration of the Rukban Camp announced on Wednesday in a Facebook post.

The Russian Ministry of Defence claim the corridors were an opportunity for civilians to "voluntarily, unimpededly and safely" leave the camp.

The camp is located inside a "deconfliction zone" set up by the US-led international coalition in 2016, which Washington saw as a strategic foothold while it launched an offensive against the Islamic State, as well as being close to the Iranian weapons supply route entering Syria from Iraq.

However following the announcement that the US is to fully withdraw from Syria, Rukban’s residents are wary of the consequences, with only fighters allied to the Free Syrian Army protecting them.

Around 50,000 civilians live in the remote camp, most of them internally displaced people (IDPs) from Homs, Deir az-Zour, and Deraa. Some 80 percent of the residents are women and children.

UNICEF urged the severity of the humanitarian situation in Rukban on Wednesday, pointing to the number of child deaths so far this year.

“Despite repeated warnings, the deaths of children in Rukban, at the southwestern border of Syria with Jordan, continue to increase at an alarming rate. Since the beginning of the year, one child has died every five days,” the organisation stated in a press release.

“One month ago, UNICEF warned that freezing temperatures and lack of healthcare were putting the lives of children in Rukban at extreme risk.

Since then, eight more children under five-years-old have died and eight more mothers have had to suffer the inconsolable grief of losing a child for no reason other than a lack of healthcare – something taken for granted in most of the world,” it added, calling for durable solutions for the crisis.

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