UN aid trucks reach remote refugee camp in Syria

A convoy carrying much-needed assistance for thousands of refugees arrived at a camp near Jordan border.

    Rukban, located close to where the borders of Syria, Iraq and Jordan converge, is home to over 50,000 refugees [File: Reuters]
    Rukban, located close to where the borders of Syria, Iraq and Jordan converge, is home to over 50,000 refugees [File: Reuters]

    A United Nations aid convoy has reached Rukban refugee camp in Syria, next to the border with Jordan, where thousands of people are stranded, a member of the camp's local council has said.

    "The first convoys have entered the camp," said Abu Abdullah, a member of the civilian council that runs the camp and coordinates with the UN on humanitarian aid, on Saturday.

    UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Ali Al-Za'tari, said in a statement the situation in the camp is critical. It is the first time since January that the displaced Syrians have received aid.

    "We are delivering food, sanitation and hygiene supplies, nutrition and health assistance in addition to other core relief items in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent," Al-Za'tari said.

    "We are also conducting an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 10,000 children against measles, polio and other deadly diseases."

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    He added that although Saturday's arrival of help was a good first step, a long-term solution is needed for the refugees in Rukban.

    "We must do everything we can to continue helping civilians living in the harshest conditions in there," he said.

    Rukban, located close to the Tanf US military base in the desert near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq converge, is home to more than 50,000 people.

    Last month, the camp was besieged on the Syrian side of the border by its army, preventing smugglers and traders from delivering food.

    A US-backed rebel group controls the area, but it abuts Jordan's border and is encircled by the Syrian army.

    According to Madeline Edwards, associate editor with the news website Syria Direct, conditions in the camp have become worse over the last month.

    "Conditions have gotten worse after a major smuggling route that used to bring in basic medical supplies and food into the camp was cut off," Edwards told Al Jazeera.

    "We're seeing a huge shortage of food, medicine and basic items like baby formula." she said, adding that prices had increased signigicantly for items still available in the camp.

    'Slow death'

    Last month, residents of the camp sent a letter to the UN and the Jordanian government, appealing for their help in lifting the blockade which they described as a "slow death".

    "Children and babies are dying because of the siege enforced by the Syrian regime and her allies 10 days ago," the letter stated.

    "If this situation continues, the camp will become a cemetery for its people", it said.

    Jordan has put a block on aid crossing the frontier after allowing the January delivery through its territory, and says it should not be held responsible for conditions in the camp.

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    Edwards said Jordan is claiming the camp is a Syrian problem, whereas those involved in the Syrian crisis are putting the blame on each other.

    UN relief trucks had planned to deliver aid to Rukban a week ago after gaining clearance from Damascus, but were delayed for logistical and security reasons, the UN said.

    Shortages of food and medicine at the camp have caused at least a dozen deaths in recent weeks. The UN described the conditions as "concerning" and said thousands of lives were at risk.

    Syria's civil war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies