Syria: humanitarian convoy reaches starving civilians in Rukban camp

Aid for an estimated 15,000 people will be handed out over five days, UN says

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 03, 2018 In this handout photo released by the Syrian Arab Red Cross (SARC) Office in Syria on November 4, 2018, workers of the Syrian Arab Red Cross (SARC) deliver humanitarian aids in the Rukban desert camp for displaced Syrians along Syria's border with Jordan. The United Nations said on August 30, 2019, it will help evacuate civilians from an "abysmal" Syrian desert camp near the border with Jordan, after a mission last week determined who wanted to leave. -  == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / Syrian Arab Red Cross (SARC)" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==
 / AFP / Syrian Arab Red Cross / HO /  == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / Syrian Arab Red Cross (SARC)" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==

A UN humanitarian aid convoy has reached Syria’s Rukban camp for only the second time this year, bringing desperately needed aid to thousands of people stranded in the desert close to the border with Jordan.

The camp, located near a base used by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS, used to house about 40,000 people displaced by fighting in Syria's civil war. But their numbers have dropped sharply with rising levels of hunger and poverty in the camp.

The convoy, in which the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is also taking part, will distribute humanitarian relief to the estimated 15,000 internally displaced people at the camp over five days, the spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Heddin Haldorsson, told The National..

The last time a humanitarian convoy entered Rukban was in February this year, Mr Halldorsson said.

The camp has been under a blockade imposed by the Syrian government and its ally Russia, who say Rukban is being used as shelter by militant groups.

The lack of essential goods, including baby formula, has led to a rise in cases of severe disease and an increase in infant mortality, the UN has said.

"The UN convoy along with the Red Crescent entered the camp this morning," commander of the Pentagon-backed Maghawir Al Thawra group, Col Muhanad Al Talaa, told The National.

Maghawir Al Thawra assist with security in the camp.

Col Al Talaa said the UN would also be organising transport to take residents who wanted to leave the camp to the government-controlled city of Homs.

“Those who want to stay in the camp will get non-food supplies, such as medical, electric supplies and blankets to prepare them for the upcoming winter season,” Col Al Talaa said.

The aid distribution will begin on Friday, he said.

The Syrian government and Russia said in February that they had opened humanitarian corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave. More than half of Rukban's population has left in recent months because of the lack of food and medical supplies.

A UN and Red Crescent mission visited the camp in August to determine how many people were still living there and and who wanted to leave.

About 47 per cent of camp residents said they wanted to stay, citing reasons including "security concerns" and "fear of detention", Panos Moumtzis, the UN's Syria humanitarian chief, told AFP.

Rights groups have warned that civilians returning to government-held territory face detention and conscription. However, conditions in the camp are dire, with many residents surviving on just one meal a day.

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