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Militants in Syria’s Rukban camp resell humanitarian aid to refugees, camp escapees say

The militants would even recruit the camp residents into their ranks, according to a returned refugee

PALMYRA, March 23. /TASS/. The Syrian city of Palmyra, which is being rebuilt after its liberation from the terrorists, greets the first refugees from the Rukban camp, located near Syria’s border with Jordan.

The camp residents have told journalists that inside the camp, controlled by US forces and the militants, they have been charged money for tents, food and medicine, and they were even recruited into militant ranks. While al-Nusra Front terrorists retain control of Syria’s northern Idlib province, US forces occupy At Tanf region in southern Syria, where the Rukban camp is situated.

The returned refugees shed light on what life in the camp is like.

Money charged for everything

"This tent has cost us 50,000 Syrian pounds ($100). It was brought from Lebanon as humanitarian aid and sold to us," says Ahmad Mohammed, one of the camp residents. "But that was only half the trouble: when we bought the tent, we discovered that there is nothing in the camp: no food, no water, no medicines."

According to Mohammad, the militants charged money for everything. "Medical aid depended on the militants, too: if you cooperate, you have access to doctors, if you don’t, there will be no aid. Our relatives’ child got sick, a 4-year old girl. She had an infection, but nobody helped her. They ran out of money, and the child died right on my hands," he recalls.

The militants would sell even humanitarian aid, received from international organizations, to refugees.

"Sometimes, we received aid from the Red Crescent, but we only saw a small portion of it, most often sold to us, not given for free. The militants take the free aid and resell it to the refugees —that’s their business. To get money, we had to work at the camp. They set up a brick factory, and we had to work like dogs there," Ahmad recalls.

All the money went into the pockets of the militants, who, according to the refugees, ran the camp.

"Yes, there is some kind of administration, but it is just the same militants. There is no difference," says Alya Mohammed, Ahmad’s brother. "They are all armed, they walk the camp with rifles, they have semi-military equipment, and they own the place."

Besides, the militants conduct active recruitment among the refugees. "They distributed leaflets, calling to take weapons and go fight against the [Assad’s] regime, even called for this during the prayers," Alya says. "Any man could turn to the administration to enlist. It was a simple way not to die of hunger."

The Mohammed family managed to save enough money to pay ransom to the Rukban administration: this was the only way of leaving the camp and returning to Palmyra.

The camp

The Rukban camp appeared at the Syrian-Jordanian border in 2014, after Amman closed its border over security concerns. The surrounding region is being controlled by the militants, which creates a tough humanitarian situation in the camp. The camp lies within the 55-km zone, controlled by the US forces, stationed at At Tanf military base.

Joint efforts of Moscow and Damascus helped find a way out of a deadlock and evacuate more than 19,000 refugees from the camp. However, regional UN bodies delay evacuation of the remaining refugees under various pretexts. In February 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the US uses the existence of the camp as a pretext to justify its illegal military presence in Syria.