Rukban, sometimes transliterated Rakban, Arabic (الرُّكبان) or (الرُّقبان) is an arid remote area near the extreme northeast of Jordan, close to the joint borders with Syria and Iraq. The area contains a refugee camp lying along the demilitarized berm between Jordan and Syria, a no man's land.
Syrian Civil War spillover
Rukban is a completely arid remote area that became inhabited by a number of Syrian refugees in 2014. Until 2016, Jordan used to welcome refugees from several crossings that exist along the border with Syria, and the country has welcomed over 1.4 million Syrians by 2016. This specific border point became inhabited by asylum seekers as Jordan had blocked their access, however, it allows around 50 to a 100 of them to pass into the country after strict screening; the government cites security concerns regarding intel on the presence of hidden Islamic State sleeper cells. Jordan wsays that the refugees in this area have arrived mostly from Islamic State controlled territories such as Raqqa, and that IS sleeper cells infiltrated these refugees. The UN accepted that the number of refugees that Jordan is hosting gives rise to legitimate security concerns (as with any country hosting large numbers of refugees). The UN did not concede that Rukban residents presented any specific or additional security concern, but the organization called on Jordan to immediately allow refugees in Rukban to access the country. Melessa Flemming of UNHCR said: "UN officials accept Jordan has legitimate security concerns, but the UN continues to urge Jordan to permit residents of Rukban to enter Jordan.", UNHCR). The number of Syrians there rose to 75,000 in 2016, becoming a de facto camp, which drew heavy criticism and condemnation to Jordan from Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2015.
At dawn on 21 June 2016, according to the Jordanian military, an car crossed over from Rukban on Syrian territory and managed to reach a Jordanian army outpost designated for the distribution of humanitarian aid to refugees. The car exploded, killing 6 and injuring 14 Jordanian soldiers.
Jordanian minister of foreign affairs Nasser Judeh said in a press conference "we don't need a hideous terrorist attack like this one to prove to the world the legitimacy of our security concerns". He added "we will not put the lives of our soldiers and our country at risk because this is not Jordan's problem alone, this is an international responsibility", "Jordan has provided for refugees what no other country has, with regard to its resources. We will not allow anyone to take the higher moral ground". Jordan afterwards declared its northern and eastern borders closed military areas, and stressed that the armed forces' border guards will not tolerate any uncoordinated movements approaching its borders and that force will be decisively used against it.
Despite this, HRW continued to condemn Jordan, most recently on 7 September 2016, due to deteriorating life conditions in Rukban after humanitarian aid was halted due to fears from further terror attacks against the Jordanian army and international humanitarian aid agencies.
During Angelina Jolie's visit to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan on 9 September 2016, she made the following statement during a press conference: "This is not a problem of Jordan's making, or that Jordan should be left to bear alone. Jordan has been warning for years that they could reach a point where they on their own could do no more. The world has known about the situation on the berm for months but no solution has been put forward."
Another attack happened on 17 December 2016, 3 km north of the border in Syria. The bombing targeted a warehouse while it was distributing clothes to refugees, resulting in 2 dead and 15 injured Syrians. On 21 January 2017, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a third explosion went off in the camp by a car bomb. 4 Syrians were killed and 14 were injured, the injured were evacuated by the Jordanian army into a medical facility.
A Jordanian miltiary source said car bomb exploded in the market area of the camp on 3 May 2017, killing four Syrians and injuring others. Jordan began blocking aid deliveries to the camp from early 2018.
On 23 August 2018, Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that hundreds of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra members were hiding among the refugees inside the camp, using them as human shields, with the knowledge of the US military at Al-Tanf. The U.S. Embassy has made similar claims, however the prevalence of IS fighters in the camp is disputed by the camp's civilian Shura governing council. Russian and Syrian government's claims of ISIS sleeper cells at Rukban camp are part of a systematic propaganda to demonize victims of Assad's atrocities. Indeed, the Syrian regime and the Russians are accused of cooperating with ISIS.
In October 2018, UNICEF estimated that 45,000 people live at the camp. Other estimates are of 50,000 or even 70,000. In October, relief workers and refugees accused the government of Syria and Russia to block aid from reaching the camp, in an attempt to force frightened refugees into reconciliation and pressure US and rebel forces to leave their base at nearby al-Tanf. According to the Russian military however the mission was delayed because of lack of security guarantees in the US-controlled area. Note that the area north of the camp was not controlled by the Syrian at that date in October. UNICEF reported that two infants died in the camp in early October, and called for urgent action, and one local NGO reported 14 civilians had died from late September to 10 October.
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- "الأردن يبحث عن "صيغة" دولية جديدة للتعامل مع ملف اللجوء السوري ووزير الخارجية لسي إن إن : لسنا بحاجة لإرهاب بشع حتى يقتنع العالم بمتطلباتنا الأمنية". Retrieved 2016-08-11.
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- "Blast kills four in Syrian camp near Jordan". Reuters. 21 January 2017. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
- "Jordan army news site: Blast in Syria border camp kills 4". AP. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
- Thousands of Syrian Refugees Face Starvation as Russia and Assad Try to Force U.S. Out, Reuters Oct 11, 2018
- "Russia records unidentified helicopters delivering weapons to Taliban, IS in Afghanistan". Tass. 23 August 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
- "Competing security and humanitarian imperatives in the Berm | Forced Migration Review". www.fmreview.org. Retrieved 2018-09-25.
- After a New Massacre, Charges That ISIS Is Operating With Assad and the Russians Daily Beast 08.09.18
- UNICEF demands aid access to Syrians trapped on Jordan border, Al-Araby, 10 October, 2018
- In 15 Days, Healthcare Deterioration Leads to 14 Civilians’ Death in al-Rukban camp, Enab Baladi 10 October 2018
- Forgotten in Rukban Camp, Syrians negotiate Assad regime Orient News 30 September 2018
- "Russian MoD Blames US for Cancelled UN-Red Cross Aid Delivery to Rukban Camp". Sputnik News. 28 October 2018.
- "UN aid delivery to Rukban camp in Syria disrupted by US". Almasdar News. 28 October 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2018.