Medical treatment

UPDATE: After 2 years, Syrians displaced from Rukban camp receive medical treatment

A boy holds a tarp provided by private donors at the Rukban IDP camp in southeastern Syria, December 2020

For the first time in years, an international medical team has entered Rukban camp to assess and treat some of the 12,000 displaced civilians in the area.

Residents and humanitarian activists confirmed to EA WorldView that the team saw around 50 patients on Monday and performed four surgeries.

Abd al-Rizq, a spokesman for the anti-Assad Maghawir al-Thawra faction, told New Arab about the clinic. He said he was only open for one day to “screen chronically ill patients”, hoping he could soon resume treating civilians.

However, a camp resident told EA WorldView that doctors will return next week with more advanced equipment for further operations.

While at the camp, the team spoke with residents about conditions during the 40-month siege between Russia and the Assad regime, including access to food and livelihoods in a context of shortage of essential commodities and inadequate shelter.

One resident, “Hussam,” told The New Arab that the medical care is “an incredible achievement”: “Before, we were afraid of getting sick because there was no treatment here. Sometimes cases had to be sent to [Assad-held territory] and some of them died in the regime’s hospitals.

He credited local sit-ins, launched outside the US military base in Tanf last fall, with the breakthrough

Local activists, residents and the anti-Assad Mughawir al-Thawra faction have confirmed that 50 residents have been transported to a new medical center inside the US military base in Tanf, eastern Syria, in the Iraqi border.

MAT commander Muhannad al-Tala’ had sent text messages saying that US forces had obtained permission to open a clinic. MAT confirmed the news on Twitter on Monday.

The 50 most seriously ill patients, based on a needs assessment in Rukban last week, were admitted this morning. Serious conditions common among residents include diabetes, kidney failure, heart problems; malnutrition, skin diseases and coronavirus as well as those who need prosthetic fitting. The clinic is also equipped to perform caesarean sections.

A local campaigner said the capacity could be expanded to 100 patients a day, adding: “EVERYONE in Rukban needs to see a doctor.”

According to a well-placed camp resident, both the State Department and the Defense Department have approved the clinic.

The beginning of significant help?

Amid the Russia-Assad regime’s siege of Rukban beginning in the fall of 2018, the US military – perhaps to avoid tensions with the Russians – had suspended medical care for Rukban residents beyond the isolated emergencies. The last UN clinic near the camp, across the border from Jordan, closed in March 2020. The facility inside the camp has no doctors and the nurses with training baseline received few medications apart from paracetamol. Residents and activists have appealed on a case-by-case basis for the seriously ill to be transported across the Jordanian border – closed by Amman in 2016 following an Islamic State suicide bomber – to a medical point.

The situation changed at the end of 2021 when the coronavirus finally entered the camp, putting thousands of people at risk. Residents began sit-ins outside Tanf, as activists desperately searched for help and eventually got masks and three oxygen cylinders.

A resident of the camp noted that the sit-ins, which began last fall, seemed to be a catalyst for the US military to act on the medical crisis: “The US team wanted to help, and the sit-ins -in helped her lobby policymakers in the United States.

Read also In the midst of the coronavirus, oxygen finally reaches the Rukban camp for displaced Syrians

A local activist said today’s breakthrough could be just the first step in supporting the 12,000 displaced, with food and education to follow.

Amid its siege of the camp, the Assad regime has allowed only three UN aid convoys since January 2018, the last of which was in September 2019.