US group delivers aid to Syria's Rukban camp

Camp residents have suffered for nearly eight years without basic medical supplies and health infrastructure, and many residents have died of disease and exposure

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A US-based non-profit organisation – with some logistical help from US forces – has successfully delivered an aid convoy into Syria's Rukban camp, circumventing a years-long blockade by the regime of President Bashar Al Assad that reduced its population by the thousands.

The Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) announced the aid delivery on Tuesday, promising that more have been scheduled in the coming weeks.

SETF said US Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) vehicles that had available space assisted in the physical delivery of the aid package, but Washington did not provide any of the aid or divert its resources into the camp.

“Thank God after years we've been able to get the support of the Department of Defence in bringing in aid, utilising available space,” SETF's Executive Director Mouaz Moustafa told The National.

A State Department official told The National that "the Biden administration remains committed to increasing humanitarian access to all parts of Syria, including the Rukban settlement."

"We are appalled that the Assad regime and Russia have repeatedly blocked aid shipments to Rukban, and we strongly support the UN’s efforts to negotiate access to the area," the official added.

SETF emphasised that aircraft used are already flying to and from Rukban for continuing OIR operations.

“They've simply supported us as an American NGO that relies on donations by American communities across the United States from Arkansas to Massachusetts to Philadelphia,” Mr Moustafa said.

The initial delivery includes seeds and irrigation tools, “which will enable the residents to cultivate their own sustenance,” SETF said.

The camp, made largely of mud-brick homes and makeshift tents, has for years lacked basic medical supplies and health infrastructure, and many residents have died of disease and exposure.

Also included in the fresh aid delivery are school supplies for Rukban's children, who have gone years, sometimes their whole lives, without a structured education.

The coming deliveries will include baby formula, prenatal vitamins, schoolbooks, and food items, SETF said.

Iran, Russia and the Assad regime have been besieging us for years cutting all our hope and aid … But now, only through the people of America, are we able to survive, have education and hope again in Rukban,” said Abu Mohammad, a Rukban resident and the camp's field director for SETF.

Rukban's population has declined drastically since 2016, both due to deaths and forced returns to territory held by the Assad regime.

The desert camp is located within a safe zone established by the US and Russia near the Jordanian-Iraqi border, about 35km from the US garrison at Al Tanf.

Access to humanitarian aid was first cut by the Jordanian government in 2016 and shifted to Damascus-based agencies under the UN umbrella, but the Assad regime and its Russian allies have blockaded the camp over claims it is a bastion of anti-regime “terrorists”.

Rukban's population is made up entirely of civilians, most of whom are women and children under the age of 12, according to the SETF.

At its peak, Rukban was home to about 60,000 people. SETF now estimates the population is about 8,000.

“Despite the failure of the [United Nations] and the international community, a small American NGO, thanks to the support and generosity of the American people, has now broken a Russian, Iranian, Assad regime seize on this camp,” Mr Moustafa told The National.

SETF has worked for years to get small amounts of aid into the otherwise isolated camp, even opening its sole pharmacy “to provide free medicine, when we can bring in medicine,” said Mr Moustafa.

“We feel ecstatic, it gives me hope that if people like Americans who believe in human rights, that if they come together and work together, we can really make a difference. And in this case, this helped save 8,000 lives.”

Updated: June 20, 2023, 2:31 PM