After 6 months, first aid delivery to Jordan border camp ‘lightens the burden of living in the middle of the desert’

AMMAN: A humanitarian aid convoy brought thousands of parcels of food and hygiene supplies into the remote Rukban camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border on Monday, one day after a suspected Islamic State bomb attack struck near the camp, sources on the ground tell Syria Direct.

Two consecutive aid deliveries to Rukban on Sunday and Monday were the first to reach the makeshift camp’s more than 75,000 displaced residents in six months, and contained supplies for at least 700 families, the camp’s head administrator and activists said.

The deliveries are set to continue “daily for the next 20 days, until everyone in the camp has received supplies,” Maan al-Awwad, a Free Tribes Army spokesman, told Syria Direct on Monday. The Free Tribes Army is a local Free Syrian Army (FSA) affiliate that operates inside Rukban and communicates with the Jordanian army.

“Each day, nine delivery trucks are to enter the camp from Jordan, and the aid will be distributed to residents,” he added. Syria Direct could not independently confirm his statement.

UN representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Syria Direct obtained photos from al-Awwad showing volunteers inside the camp distributing truckloads of UNICEF-marked packages to residents on both Sunday and Monday.

During the distribution of aid on Monday, a man and woman were reportedly injured when Free Tribes Army personnel opened fire on civilians who were rushing to receive the aid, Hamam Abu Fahd, a Rukban resident told Syria Direct.*

"People usually all rush in when aid is delivered, because everyone needs it," Abu Fahd, who fled his hometown in eastern Homs province for the camp three years ago said. "The shooting didn't impact the distribution."

Settled in mid-2014 by Syrians fleeing eastern, Islamic State-captured territory, Rukban is now home to at least 75,000 displaced people. They live within the dusty no-man’s-land between two earthen berms demarcating Syria’s far southeastern border with Jordan.

Residents are stranded in the desert with scarce food, water and medical supplies, and rely on outside support to survive. But Islamic State sleeper cells on the Syrian side of the border regularly threaten the camp with deadly car bomb attacks, making it nearly impossible for aid workers to enter.

The Islamic State claimed credit for a car bomb that killed seven Jordanian soldiers at a border guard outpost just outside Rukban last June, prompting Amman to close the border completely and declare its side a closed military zone.

The most recent bomb attack occurred just hours before Sunday’s aid delivery trucks reached Rukban, killing two people at an FSA-affiliated militia’s outpost 25km from the camp. Just three days earlier, an IS-claimed car bomb killed four people inside Rukban according to the Tribal Council of Palmyra and Badia, which runs a network of citizen journalists and activists in the camp.

Sunday’s bomb attack did not derail the aid deliveries. Volunteers unloaded trucks that arrived from Jordan on Sunday and Monday, camp administrator Mu’ayyad al-Abeed told Syria Direct. Al-Abeed leads a body of camp-wide tribal leaders who formed a civilian administrative council in Rukban earlier this year. His 15-year-old cousin was one of the two victims of the bomb attack early Sunday morning.

The aid delivery is part of a coordinated effort between the camp-wide administrative council, the UN and Jordanian authorities, said al-Abeed. Last week, he said, “we spoke with delegations from the UN and from the Jordanian border patrol, and devised a plan for distributing the aid supplies.”

The first distributions are going to families with eight or more people, al-Abeed said, while the last supplies will go to individuals or families of two.

Al-Abeed provided photos to Syria Direct showing the contents of the packages, which include toilet paper, sanitary pads, soap and other hygiene products. The food parcels appeared to contain flour, beans, grain and cooking oil.

Camp resident Abu Fahd told Syria Direct that he, his wife and son are among the families are among the families “still waiting” to receive their share of the aid deliveries on Monday.

“We’re living out here in the middle of the desert,” he said. “Even just a basket of food supplies lightens this burden.”

*The original version of this report did not include news of the shooting. Syria Direct regrets the oversight.

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.