First aid shipment in eight months reaches thousands of displaced Syrians in Rukban

AMMAN: Packages of food, hygiene and cleaning supplies are reaching thousands of “overjoyed” Syrians at a remote displacement camp along the Syrian-Jordanian border for the first time in eight months this week, sources on the ground tell Syria Direct.

Tall cranes have transported 3,000 aid packages across the Jordanian border to the remote Rukban displacement camp in the southeastern Syrian desert since Monday, the camp’s local council president told Syria Direct. The United Nations (UN) is reportedly supervising the ongoing aid delivery.

Rukban is a makeshift camp for roughly 60,000 internally displaced Syrians in a demilitarized no-man’s land between Syria and Jordan known as “the berm.”

Residents of Rukban, thousands of whom fled battles against the Islamic State in eastern Syria’s Deir e-Zor in recent months, are stranded in the desert with scarce food, water and medical supplies. They depend on outside support to survive.

The latest aid delivery reached Rukban one day after the Jordanian government announced it would permit a “one-time” shipment of humanitarian aid to the informal settlement, located in a largely empty stretch of desert.

Trucks stationed inside Rukban collected 3,000 aid parcels dropped inside the berm since Monday, local council president Mohammad Ahmad a-Darbas told Syria Direct on Tuesday. Parcels have been distributed to at least 1,200 families so far, he added.

Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid in Rukban camp on Monday. Photo courtesy of Kateiba Muhammad.

Local volunteers living in Rukban are expected to distribute some 10,000 packages—one per family in Rukban—over the course of the week.

Each parcel contains enough food, cleaning supplies and women’s hygiene kits to last a family for “one month,” added Darbas, though he asserted that “the amount [of aid] is not enough” to reach what he estimates to be 12,000 families inside Rukban.

Syria Direct reached out on Tuesday to a spokesman from UNICEF, the UN agency responsible for a water pipeline into the camp, who said he could not provide any comment on the aid delivery. An official UN statement on Rukban would be released on Wednesday, the spokesman added.

Syrians living in the isolated Rukban camp are sustained almost entirely through outside aid deliveries and whatever limited supplies they can source from their surroundings. Many displaced residents have lived in the informal settlement for years.

But Islamic State sleeper cells on the Syrian side of the border have regularly threatened the camp over the past two years with deadly car bomb attacks, making it nearly impossible for outside aid workers to enter.

The Islamic State claimed credit for a car bomb in June 2016 that killed seven Jordanian soldiers at a border guard outpost just outside Rukban, prompting Amman to close the border completely.

The Jordanian government declared its northern and eastern borders a closed military zone following the attack, effectively halting aid from reaching Rukban overland. Cranes deliver aid to Rukban infrequently, and a UNICEF-run pipeline supplying the camp with water from Jordan has failed at least twice in recent months.

Negotiations in late 2017 between UN offices in Damascus and Amman, as well as a local rebel militia near Rukban, to establish an overland aid route to the camp through Syrian government-controlled territory have not yet come to fruition. It is not immediately clear whether or not talks are ongoing.

The last aid delivery to reach Rukban was in May 2017, when truckloads of UNICEF-marked packages carrying food and hygiene kits entered via Jordan.

This week’s aid shipment is being distributed inside Rukban by the camp’s civil administration and local Free Syrian Army-affiliated rebel faction Jaish al-Ashair, camp administrator Abu Abdallah al-Obeida told Syria Direct via WhatsApp on Monday afternoon.

Distribution will continue for a week, until aid “reaches every family in Rukban,” al-Obedia said.

“The food that came to us today is a blessing,” Kateiba Muhammad, a 35-year-old Rukban resident told Syria Direct on Monday afternoon as he waited in line for his turn to claim food, medical and hygienic supplies. Residents were “overjoyed by the aid shipment,” he said.

 

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 in 2016 and previously reported for The Daily Star in Beirut.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.