Baby dies at Syrian camp near US base despite family pleas for international help

Yaqeen Al Akeel's family had fought for months to have their child medically evacuated from the besieged Rukban camp

Yaqeen Al Akeel, pictured here a few days after her birth, died on Monday. She was born with a cleft palate and needed urgent life-saving surgery. Photo: Voice of Rukban / Facebook
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Yaqeen Al Akeel, a 9-month-old girl born in Syria's besieged Rukban camp, has died after a months-long fight to evacuate her for treatment of a medical disorder that affected her breathing.

The child, who died on Monday, was born with a cleft palate that increasingly disrupted her ability to breathe and eat, camp residents said.

Her parents took to Rukban's social media account, Voice of Rukban, and begged the international community to help medically evacuate their baby from the remote camp that sits in the 50-kilometre safe zone near the border with Iraq and Jordan.

“If the international community just had a conscience and could empathise with the feeling of a mother that is losing her child in front of her very eyes … We've lost hope in any international organisations,” Fatima Al Shihab, Yaqeen's mother said. “All of them have betrayed us.”

“We tried to bring her voice to as many people as possible, but we were not able to get any help,” a Rukban camp resident said.

The Rukban camp is only 35km from the US Al Tanf garrison and its American resources, but has been trapped in a geopolitical stalemate, with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's regime in Damascus blocking aid to the camp for more than three years.

Despite its proximity to US forces, Washington says it has no responsibility for the civilian camp, pointing to Mr Al Assad's regime and its Russian allies for its residents' continued suffering.

If the international community just had a conscience and could empathise with the feeling of a mother that is losing her child in front of her very eyes ... All of them have betrayed us
Fatima Al Shihab, Yaqeen's mother

The US extended its condolences to Yaqeen's family.

“We are saddened to hear about the loss of Yaqeen Al Akeel, and we give our sincerest condolences to the family,” a US official at the UN told The National.

“The Biden administration remains committed to increasing humanitarian access to all parts of Syria. We continue to urge the Assad regime and Russia to allow life-saving aid to reach the people of Rukban.”

Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Washington-based Syrian Emergency Task Force which works directly with Rukban, told The National that Jordan was also to blame for the camp residents' continued suffering.

Access to humanitarian aid was first cut by the Jordanian government in 2016 and shifted to Damascus-based agencies under the UN umbrella. Aid to the camp, in other words, can only enter with the permission of the regime that has blockaded it.

In addition, Amman closed the camp's closest health clinic, run by the UN in Jordanian territory, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and has never reopened it.

“The Jordanians should be held responsible; if there was still access to that clinic, that little girl would still be alive today,” said Mr Moustafa.

“And it's Jordan's decision not based on anything but their willingness to normalise the Assad regime to stop anybody from getting medical aid at the medical point.”

The Jordanian embassy in Washington declined to comment when The National asked about Yaqeen's death.

Rukban's followers on social media took to various platforms to mourn the infant's death, among them activist Omar Alshogre, who also serves as SETF's director of detainee affairs and is a survivor of Assad regime torture.

“She is dead because the international community did not take their responsibility seriously … She is dead because the world has been very hesitant and very cowardly to help the people in Rukban camp,” said Mr Alshogre.

For SETF, Yaqeen has given a name and face to many of Rukban's families who have lost children due to lack of medical care and exposure in the years since the Assad regime's blockade.

“A lot of times [Rukban parents] complain that they don't know why their babies die, they don't have a way of diagnosing it because there are no doctors,” said Mr Moustafa.

Syrian refugees living in fear in Rukban camp — in pictures

Updated: October 27, 2022, 2:30 AM