Aid workers reach remote Syrian camp for the first time in three years


U.N. officials and volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent offered children vaccinations and distributed desperately needed aid on Sunday, the first such assistance to reach thousands in a remote camp for the displaced on Syria’s border with Jordan since January.

Residents said that teams from international organizations entered their camp for the first time since it was set up over three years ago, where nearly 50,000 have been stranded in limbo.

In the past, aid only reached the camp from Jordan and aid workers were not permitted from accessing the camp due to security concerns.

The Arab Syrian Red Crescent and the United Nations posted pictures of staff unloading trucks of life-saving assistance and administering vaccines to children.

Residents posed with the aid trucks driving through the desolate camp, where 10,000 children are expected to be vaccinated.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting against Islamic State militants said its local allies, a Syrian armed group known as Maghawir al-Thawra, provided security for the aid convoys.

Resident Abdul-Fatah al-Khaled, who also runs a camp school, said aid workers, including U.N. staff, were on the ground at the camp for the first time.

“Before (January) the aid used to be distributed from the Jordanian side over the sand berms” or by rebel groups who resided in the camp, al-Khaled said.

Al-Khaled said distribution of food and winter clothes began late Saturday.

People first begun to gather in Rukban three years ago, fleeing IS militants and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, Russia and Syria. Jordan sealed its border and stopped regular aid deliveries in 2016 after a cross-border IS attack that killed seven Jordanian soldiers. The attack, and other violence, fueled accusations that militants were hiding among camp residents and raised concern that deteriorating humanitarian conditions amounted to collective punishment.

The last aid delivery from Jordan was in January, which meant the residents had to be dependent on goods largely smuggled from government-held areas. The situation sharply deteriorated after the Syrian government blocked supply routes last month following a botched reconciliation deal with rebel groups in the area.

Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, blamed the U.S. for the deterioration of the situation in Rukban, which is within a 55-square kilometer (20 sq. mile) “deconfliction zone” set up by U.S. forces stationed in the nearby Tanf military base.

The U.S.-led coalition has denied such allegations and blamed Russia and the Syrian government instead.

“We continue to stand ready to enable future delivery of U.N. humanitarian relief to the people of Rukban until they are able to return home as we pursue our mission of an enduring defeat of (IS),” said Maj. Gen. (UK) Christopher Ghika, a deputy commander for the U.S.-led Coalition.

The U.N. said aid deliveries would continue for four more days, as the condition in the camp was “critical” with reported shortages of basic commodities, protection concerns, and increasing violence.



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