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UN Official: Conditions in Syrian Rukban Camp Throwback to 'Stone Age'


FILE - Syrian refugees are seen at Rukban camp, located in a no-man's-land on the border between Syria and Jordan, March 1, 2017

A senior U.N. official reports the distribution of life-saving aid is nearly complete for 40,000 Syrians stranded in the remote Rukban camp near the Jordanian border. The U.N.’s largest humanitarian convoy in Syria’s eight-year conflict arrived at Rukban six days ago.

This is the second U.N. convoy to reach this harsh desert outpost since November. Corinne Fleischer, the World Food Program representative in Syria and Rukban Convoy team leader, said the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and U.N. agencies are in the process of delivering a one-month supply of food, basic medical items, clothes, sanitation, hygiene and other essential relief to the last 7,000 beneficiaries.

She said the vast majority of people are women and children who have been living in the desolate region for up to four years under increasingly desperate conditions. She said winter in the desert is extremely cold, noting that at least eight young children have died at the site as of January.

Speaking on a poor phone line from Rukban, Fleischer said the camp is situated in the middle of nowhere and that this affects every aspect of life for the thousands of people trapped there.

FILE - Syrian refugee women holding children are seen at Rukban camp, located in a no-man's-land on the border between Syria and Jordan, March 1, 2017.
FILE - Syrian refugee women holding children are seen at Rukban camp, located in a no-man's-land on the border between Syria and Jordan, March 1, 2017.

“There is not a single doctor in the entire Rukban settlement. Health care is provided by nurses. Many of them without any formal training. When we talked to a nurse who has 16 years of experience, who is displaced from Palmyra and she said that the conditions in the health clinic she works in are so basic as if she was operating in the stone age,” Fleischer said.

Rukban is located close to the al-Tanf U.S. military base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. The residents include tens of thousands of people who have fled from Islamic State-held parts of Syria, which have been under attack by Russian and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

Besides the distribution of humanitarian assistance, Fleischer said aid workers have immunized some 7,000 children against measles, polio and other diseases. She is calling on all parties to allow the U.N. to continue critical assistance for people in the camp. For example, she said, establishing well-equipped health clinics in the camp would save many lives.

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