Intolerable Living Conditions in “al-Rukban Camp" on the Jordanian-Syrian Border

“Tens of Thousands of Displaced Persons have Difficulty Accessing Potable Water and Health Care”

Posted on September 25, 2017

Categories : Reports, Special Reports

Image shows tents of the Syrian refugees trapped in al-Rukban Camp, located on the Jordanian-Syrian border, taken in July 2017. Photo Credit: activists from the camp.

Preface: Tens of thousands of displaced Syrian refugees trapped in "al-Rukban Camp", on the Jordanian-Syrian border, still suffer intolerable living conditions due to severe shortages of foodstuffs and medical supplies. This coincided with the intensity military confrontations between Syrian regular forces on the one hand and the Syrian opposition factions on the other hand, in the Syrian Badia region, thus cutting all roads between the camp and the eastern countryside of As-Suwaida, which are ways to supply the camp with food and medical supplies and are considered a lifeline of the camp. Syrians for Truth and Justice-STJ reporter said the scarcity of water in the camp and use of polluted water for drinking and bathing contributed in spreading several illnesses among the refugees, especially with the almost-complete absence of medical care provided by the organizations concerned inside the camp.

 

Al-Rukban Camp lies near the Jordanian-Syrian border junction and at about (25) km west of al-Tanaf Border Crossing (which connects Syria and Iraq). This camp established as a result of the congregation of many Syrian refugees fleeing the areas of armed conflict in Homs Province, the Syrian Badia and the northern Syrian regions, after the Jordanian authorities prevented them from entering its territory in March 2015, on the pretext that the numbers of Syrian refugees had exceeded the capacity of Jordan's absorption.

 

More than a half of the refugee tents are in the "demilitarized"[1] zone, and the rest are within the Syrian territory.  Numbers of refugees in this random camp, located in a desert area, are up to (75) thousand according to many sources inside the camp. However, there are still no official statistics on number of refugees in al-Rukban Camp by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/ UNHCR. However, according to the estimates of STJ reporter, the number of refugees in the camp has exceeded (100) thousands since July 2017, as thousands of refugees fled from "al-Hadlat Camp"[2] near al-Rukban Camp following its targeting by Syrian warplanes to its outskirts with several air raids. In addition to the intensification of fight in Badia area near the two camps between the Syrian regular forces on one hand and the Syrian opposition factions, ISIS, on the other hand.

STJ had earlier published a report on the dangerous security situation in al-Rukban Camp and the car bombs that targeted the camp and left dozens of dead civilians during the previous months of 2017.

 

A sattelite image shows the approximate location of al-Rukban Camp, located on the Jordanian-Syrian border, 25 km west of al-Tanaf Border Crossing.

 


First: Water Scarcity in al-Rukban Camp:
Syrian refugees, trapped in al-Rukban Camp, not only suffered from significant increase of temperatures during the summer months, but also suffered a great scarcity of potable and bathing water given the Jordanian side control the amount of water pumped from inside Jordan near the border.  In this regard, Tariq al-Hamad, a refugee who displaced to the camp with his family about a year and a half ago, testified to STJ in mid-August 2017, saying:


"We displaced from Homs because of the poor security conditions, and we did not succeed in entering Jordan because of the restrictions imposed by the Jordanian authorities which prevent any refugee from entering it. Since our arrival at al-Rukban Camp, we have been facing several difficulties, such as securing potable water and food.  For example, in order to get several liters of water, we have to walk more than 5 km; some people walk more than 15 km for the same goal, as there is no permanent source of water here. Within the two last months, the Jordanian side did not bring any tanks to the camp, and water was not pumped through the pipes extended during the previous year, so some traders sell water to refugees at high prices which they can’t afford."

 

Image shows the congregation point of refugees in the water distribution area, south of al-Rukban Camp, taken on 15 August 2017.

Photo Credit: STJ

 

In turn, Abu Omar al- Homsi, the media activist, spoke to STJ on 18 August 2017, about the alternative ways the refugees use under water scarcity in the camp. He said that many refugees take advantage of rainwater in the plains, valleys and cracks in al-Badia region, which is 100 km away from the camp, and then they filter it and leave it for five days, until it is used later as a source of drinking, he continued:

 

"The water the refugees use and filter is completely undrinkable, the thing that caused many diseases to spread among them, such as kidney failure, diseases of the digestive system, as well as the emergence of dozens of cases of vomiting and jaundice among children. Besides, lately, many skin diseases have spread, such as skin sensitivity due to lack of bathing and high temperatures. Moreover, on 2 August 2017, unknown individuals burned the pipes pumping water to the camp, but the Jordanian side re-pumped water to the southern point of the camp, on 15 August 2017, after a cut of almost two months for unknown reasons."

 

Another image shows a refugee child in al-Rukban Camp filling rainwater to use it later for drinking and bathing, taken on 10 August 2017

 Photo Credit: Activists from al-Rukban Camp.

 

Another image shows the extent of the contamination of rainwater and wells near al-Rukban Camp, which the refugees use for either drinking or bathing, taken during July 2017.

 Photo Credit: Activists from al-Rukban Camp.

 

Second: Lack of Food Inside al-Rukban Camp Due to Ongoing Fight Nearby and Interruption of the United Nations-UN Aid

In addition to the suffering of the Syrian refugees in al-Rukban Camp, loss of most basic foodstuffs, such as bread, flour, sugar and oil, as a result of the interruption of assistance after the latest suicidal bomb on 15 May 2017, which targeted the main market near the assistance distribution point. Moreover, the control of the Syrian regular forces on large areas of the eastern countryside of As-Suwaida and the Syrian Badia near the camp had a negative impact on the camp refugees, notably since they were buying food from As-Suwaida villages at their own expense, and they are now deprived of that.

 

Salem al-Amour, a Syrian refugee who fled with his family from Homs to al-Rukban Camp more than a year ago, spoke to STJ on 12 August 2017, about the difficulty of living in the camp and the sharp inflated prices, where he said:

 

"Things are getting worse day by day, the food prices soared and the money we had saved in the past days had run out completely because the last time we received a food basket was about two months ago, during May 2017, when “Jusoor al-Amal’, a humanitarian organization, distributed them. What made matters even worse is that roads leading to inside Syrian were cut off. Therefore, every week a car from Ad-Dumayr city comes through rugged roads and sells food at very high prices, until the price of one kilo of bread became SYP 500, one liter of oil became SYP 2200, and one kilo of sugar  became SYP 700 SP.  Apart from a barrel of water that used to be SYP 200, traders started to sell it for SYP 2000 given the Jordanian authorities prevented entering water to the camp more than two months ago.”

 

Al-Amour noted that the accumulation of suffering has left a negative impact on the people in the camp and led many to find alternative ways to survive. Some cases emerged of women "having sex" for money in order to feed their children, citing a woman in the camp who needs weekly a box of milk that costs SYP 5000 for her baby.

 

Third: Medical Situation in al-Rukban Camp
Al-Rukban Camp lacks field hospitals and health centers, and the medical work is limited to five medical points supervised by volunteers from the camp who had received some training at the medical center of UNHCR in Jordan. In this regard, Abu Huthaifa, a director of a medical point inside the camp, testified to STJ in mid-August 2017, and said:

 

"The situation in al-Rukban Camp became is like a slow death, as people of the camp suffer from severe shortages in all necessities of life, in addition to a significant shortage of medicines and medical equipment. Moreover, the medical services are almost non-existent, they are limited to a major medical point and four others, some of which are funded poorly by "Jusoor al-Amal" that provide medication for free to patients despite the difficulty to access it and its inflated prices, considering that some traders buy those medications from Syrian Regime-held areas or from ISIS-controlled areas. Let alone the great difficulty in securing medicines for chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma and blood pressure."

 

Abu Huthaifa noted that at least 70 medical cases of various illnesses are received in one day.  Many diseases emerged, especially among the children, as a result of water scarcity and using rainwater as an alternative for drinking and bathing; the most prominent diseases are severe diarrhea and skin infections such as smallpox, Scabies and psoriasis, as well as diseases of urinary system such as gravel. He also noted that there was no surgical or caesarean sections within those centers, which would entails the transfer of those cases to Jordan, and said:

 

"There is only one labor room in just one of the medical points; in a year and a half, there were (2400) births and (700) abortion, all of which occur as a result of the lack of medical equipment and hygiene. Besides, there are no children incubators, medical analysis laboratory nor X-ray equipment in our medical centers, and the serious medical cases are diverted to the medical point inside Jordan supervised by UNICE, but the Jordanian side often does not approve on the entry of such cases, unless the patient's condition is closer to death."


In turn, Abu Huthaifa added that children are the most vulnerable by the high temperatures and drinking of polluted water in the camp. He indicated that more than 50 children were infected with severe diarrhea and vomiting a short time ago. In addition, the lack of medical care caused the death of three children during July 2017, including a child who died one day after his birth due to lack of children incubators, and the child "Rawaa ad Dukhan" who died in the same month because of severe diarrhea and not allowing her to enter Jordan for treatment.

 

Image shows two refugee children in al-Rukban Camp drinking contaminated water at a water distribution point south of the camp, taken during May 2017.

Photo Credit: activists from al-Rukban Camp.

 

Fourth: the Security Threat Surrounding al-Rukban Camp

During July 2017, the Syrian Badia near al-Rukban Camp witnessed fierce battles between Syrian regular forces on one hand and the Syrian opposition factions (Usoud al-Sharqiya, al-Qaryatein Martyrs Brigade, Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo) on the other hand. The battles led to the control of Syrian regular forces on the whole of As-Suwaida eastern countryside, areas of Homs Badia near Palmyra, the most important is Halbeh village, and parts of Damascus Badia with the most important Arnuba village thus putting Syrian refugees in al-Rukban Camp under a new threat.  In this regard, Abu Omar al-Homsi, the media activist, in an interview with STJ on 18 August 2017, said:

 

"Syrian warplanes launched several air raids on the outskirts of  al-Hadlat Camp causing many inhabitants to displace to al-Rukban Camp, as the battles, already mentioned, led to the control of the regime forces over large distances estimated at just 26 km away from al-Rukban Camp, and those forces were 60 km close to al-Hadlat Camp. This significant progress of the regime forces, no doubt, threaten the refugees in the border camps, especially if the regime forces manage to control those camps."

Two images shows an airstrike by Syrian warplanes on the outskirts of al-Hadlat Camp on 10 August 2017.

 Photo Credit: Activists from al-Hadlat Camp

 


 

[1] The Syrian and Jordanian sides had agreed to establish barricades on their territory from equal distances from the border, which created a demilitarized zone, each part of which was located in a country.

[2] It lies on the Syrian-Jordanian border, 90 km west of al-Rukban Camp, with a population of more than eight thousands, according to an unofficial statistics. It is similar to al-Rukban Camp in its establishment given Jordan prevented refugees from entering its territory.



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