After months of negotiations, a convoy of sixty-seven aid trucks recently crossed a stretch of desert in southern Syria controlled by the Syrian government and its Iranian allies, before entering territory administered by a small, U.S.-backed rebel group. The trucks carried food, medicine, and winter coats for a fetid refugee camp known as Rukban, home to some forty thousand civilians who have been trapped in a strip of land wedged between Syria and Jordan, and cut off from the outside world since 2015. It was the first aid to reach the camp since January—and the new supplies should last only a month. No one knows when, or if, another shipment will arrive.
Rukban lies in a thirty-five-mile-wide internationally-recognized demilitarized zone created by the United States and Russia, though neither Washington nor Moscow takes responsibility for it. It is populated by Syrians who fled the violence of both the Bashar al-Assad regime and isis, and, until the recent delivery, the Syrian government had refused to allow aid convoys to pass through its territory to reach the camp. Jordan has blocked humanitarian organizations from reaching the area, too. Aid organizations “always tell us, ‘We are doing our best,’ ” Mahmoud Qassem Almaili, a resident of the camp who serves on its civil council, told me over the phone recently. “But it’s all only promises.”
United Nations officials say that Rukban’s residents live in “dire” conditions: hunger and the threat of malnutrition are growing; there are a hundred and fifty urgent medical cases but not a single certified doctor there to treat them; last month, two children died awaiting medical care; and reports are circulating of child marriages, child soldiers, and prostitution. In a conflict known for its staggering humanitarian crises, camp residents feel that Rukban is a symbol of the international community’s inability—or unwillingness—to help Syrians. [Continue reading…]