Coalition abandons Rukban civilians to Assad

In Rukban as in Afghanistan, civilians are today being abandoned to a brutal regime. But here there are few cameras. Syria Notes is speaking to sources on the ground.


UN trucks came today to Rukban Camp in Syria, not to deliver aid but to deliver civilians to the Assad regime.

It’s been two years since the UN last delivered food aid to Rukban Camp. The camp is right next to a Jordanian border crossing, but it’s been three and a half years since Jordan closed its border for delivery of food aid.

Today the UN arrived with five empty trucks to starving people, a camp resident told us over WhatsApp. When the UN trucks arrived, an angry crowd gathered. Some reportedly began to throw stones at the convoy.

We’re told that the most desperate of the camp’s residents are ready to leave on the trucks. Our contact estimates that around a hundred families—maybe 500 people—may leave for Assad-controlled areas. The vehicles used by the UN for the displacement are trucks used for carrying livestock, or vegetables, or other goods, we are told. Those considering leaving on them are people in dire need of medical treatment, or who are very poor and are starving.

What will happen when they get there? Amnesty International has seen the UN displacement plan. People will be transferred to “shelters” located in schools in the Syrian city of Homs. Under the plan, permission to leave the Homs quarantine site would be subject to approval by the Syrian authorities, meaning the authorities would have the power to detain returnees for potentially longer periods without judicial oversight.

Amnesty has documented how so-called shelters have previously been used by the Syrian regime to detain and interrogate returnees. Some returnees were then transferred to intelligence centres and in some cases tortured and forcibly disappeared.

“They split men from women and children,” one survivor called Wassim told Amnesty. “Syrian intelligence members escorted us… Air Force intelligence was in charge.”

For its recent report, “You’re Going to your Death,” Amnesty documented the cases of ten people who returned from Rukban to regime territory. All were arbitrarily detained. Three of the ten were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. Two were forcibly disappeared.

Others have reported that some people have been shot and killed after being taken to the so-called shelters.

Amnesty has called on the UN to halt its displacement of people from Rukban.

Rukban Camp has been under Coalition military control since 2016, the year Coalition forces established the nearby Tanf Base in Syria and declared a 55 kilometre zone of military control around it. This 55 km Coalition zone encompasses Rukban Camp.

Under Geneva Convention IV Article 55, the occupying military force has a duty to bring in food and medical aid:

To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate. When the world’s media showed civilians in Afghanistan being abandoned, at risk of torture and murder, the US and UK militaries were forced to act to save people.

What the UN is facilitating today is a forced displacement. People are are not acting freely. They are forced to leave because of being denied food and medical aid in contravention of Geneva Convention IV, and the Coalition allies, the US, UK, and Jordan, are legally responsible for that.

Syria Notes briefing:
Notes on Rukban Camp

In the days after 11 September 2021, we spoke to a number of people in Rukban Camp, all of whom gave us similar accounts of the day’s events. One witness told us that he thought only fifteen families actually showed up to be taken to the regime.

I was there when the trucks arrived. Five trucks came to the edge of the camp. I waited for the trucks half an hour before they arrived. Maghaweir al-Thowra (the local Syrian militia backed by the US-led Coalition) only escorted them from the gates of the camp until they parked the trucks. Then the Maghaweir al-Thowra cars left. If they had stayed the situation would not have escalated.

Around thirty to forty people gathered around when the trucks arrived. A few families were planning to leave in the trucks. When other residents of the camp saw the trucks, they assumed the trucks had aid. When it was revealed that the trucks where empty, people got upset. Because people here can’t find the means to live day to day, the people were upset that no UN aid was coming. So, a scuffle happened.

People started shouting in anger, they shouted things like, Why didn’t you bring any aid with you? Then some people started throwing stones, they didn’t aim to harm the drivers, mostly they aimed at the back of the trucks. Some people even fought among themselves, because some people were for the removal of some families to the regime areas and some were against.

The people who wanted to leave were few, but because of the escalation they didn’t get into the trucks. I was there and tried to defuse the situation. I shouted at the people to stop and told them these are just drivers, they don’t represent the UN and they are not at fault here. The drivers were keen to leave. I could tell they were scared and that I was keeping the crowd away from them. I told the trucks driver to leave immediately to avoid any escalation of the situation.

How can the UN do this to us? Is this a humanitarian organisation? Or something for the regime to use against us? The people here are hungry, some are going to bed every night with empty stomachs.