UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The United Nations said on Friday it would help evacuate civilians from the Syrian desert camp on the border with Jordan after a mission last week named those wishing to leave.
“We are ready to facilitate” evacuations from the Rukban camp, said Panos Moumtzis, the UN humanitarian official in Syria.
“We want to ensure that this happens in a voluntary way,” he told AFP in an interview in Beirut, describing the situation in the camp as “dire.”
According to the UN official, about 12,700 people remain in the isolated Rukban camp, close to a base used by the US-led coalition to fight ISIS.
In February, the Syrian government and Russia, its main backer, announced the opening of corridors to exit the camp and called on its residents to leave.
Over the past few months, more than half of the population has left the camp, the United Nations said.
The United Nations and the Syrian Red Crescent sent a mission to the camp last week to determine how many remain inside and how many want to leave, the UN official said.
“More than a third of the population wants to leave,” Moumtzis said.
“The vast majority want to go to government-controlled areas while others want to go to the northern areas,” he said.
He said about 47 percent of the camp’s residents surveyed said they wanted to stay partly because of “security concerns” and “fears of arrest.”
Human rights groups reported that civilians who returned to government-controlled areas faced arrest and recruitment.
Those fleeing to the opposition-held northern areas face violence in Idlib province, where Syrian and Russian bombardments have killed more than 950 people since April.
– Urgent aid –
Although the Rukban camp has not received any assistance since February, UNAMI has not distributed any assistance except “very few health supplies”.
But Moumtzis said last week’s visit was only the first step of a “two-step” plan and that the second step involved distributing aid.
“The second mission – which I hope will take place very soon – will return and distribute the most urgent assistance,” he said, without giving a specific date.
Conditions in the camp are dire, with many living on one simple meal a day, usually consisting of bread, olive oil or yogurt, according to one resident.
Abu Ahmed al-Darb al-Khalidi, head of an opposition-run civilian council in the camp, said the United Nations had promised to distribute food aid in the first week of September.
He confirmed that buses will be allowed to enter the camp to evacuate residents after receiving this assistance.
The chairman of the local council told AFP that the second batch of medical and other non-food aid will follow the first round of evacuations.
“The situation is desperate,” Moumtzis said, describing the stadiums as one of the places where humanitarian workers find it difficult to reach.
Neighboring Jordan has closed its border in the region since 2016 after a bloody attack on Jordanian soldiers claimed by Islamic State.
The arrival of aid to the camp – located in an area where US-backed fighters are present – from areas controlled by the Syrian regime requires permission from the regime.
In February, a convoy of 133 trucks arrived and distributed food, clothing, health care and medical supplies to camp residents.
It was the second aid package to arrive in three months.
More than 370,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the Syrian war, which began with brutal crackdowns on anti-Syrian protests in 2011.
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