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UN has ‘green light’ to facilitate departures of displaced Syrians from Rukban camp

Global body says some 17,700 of camp's dwellers have already left

By Elizabeth Turnbull - Aug 17,2019 - Last updated at Aug 17,2019

Syrian refugees are seen off the Jordanian border at the Rukban refugee camp (JT file photo)

AMMAN — The UN has been given the “green light” to facilitate voluntary departures from Rukban camp for Syrian refugees near the Jordanian border, a statement from the global body has said, noting that some 17,700 of the camp’s dwellers have already left to Syrian government-controlled areas.

The plan to be implemented by the UN, in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, will evaluate needs of camp residents and calculate the number of residents who wish to leave the camp, in addition to providing assistance to the inhabitants who choose to remain, the statement, released on August 8, said. 

Located in the no-man’s land at the border of Jordan, Syria and Iraq near Al Tanf US base, Rukban camp was estimated to accommodate some 36,000 displaced Syrians before the reported departures.

The UN said that preparations are still in the works for the plan, which is “guided by minimum standards and key protection and operational considerations”. 

"All parties are encouraged to support the implementation of the plan and pursue efforts to explore further solutions for those opting to remain or leave to a third destination," the UN statement read.

Located roughly 300 kilometres from Damascus, the UN has previously called the camp “one of Syria’s most challenging places to reach”, as supply routes have been frequently blocked, according to a UN article published February of this year.

In the past, the camp has proven “so challenging to access” that the United Nation’s aid delivery operation to the camp in February marked only the second time the organisation had been able to reach the camp from within Syria, in addition to being the biggest operation the UN had ever carried out in Syria at that time, according to the article.

According to data released by Reuters in April, the tens of thousands of refugees who have sought refuge in Rukban face difficult conditions inside the camp. 

As of February, most of those residing in the camp were women and children suffering from very high food prices, a lack of healthcare and poor living conditions, according to the UN article.

Due to the difficult living conditions, the camp’s population shrunk by 30 per cent between October 2018 and January 2019, according to Reuters.

While humanitarian aid was facilitated through Jordan in the past, the Kingdom declared the northern and north-eastern border areas a closed military zone in June 2016, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack that targeted a military post serving refugees near the border, killing seven security forces and injuring 13 others, and has since allowed for aid delivery to the camp through the Kingdom in “exceptional cases” only. 

Jordan argues that as the camp is located in Syrian territories, aid delivery must be facilitated through Syria, stressing that aid is a “temporary solution”, and efforts must be directed towards dismantling the camp and allowing the return of refugees to their hometowns.

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