Syrian Legal Platform

Women in Al-Rukban Camp…Ultimate Suffering and Violation of Basic Rights

Samer Al Ahmad – Geiroon

The mother of 14-year-old Athari Hussein Darwish told Geiroon: “The doctors advised me to expedite the treatment of my daughter before she becomes completely paralyzed. Her condition was deteriorating on a daily basis, but the living conditions in the camp prevented saving her. Despair began creeping into her heart and she refused to speak to anyone about her condition.” Athari suffers from a spinal cord injury, but the poor medical capabilities in the camp made her condition worse in light of Jordan’s refusal to let her in for treatment.  She is now calling on the United Nations and international organizations to intervene in order to save her daughter’s life.  

The mother continues: “my daughter has had a problem with the spinal cord for several years. She had a marrow splitting operation nine years ago. She has one operation left which is the nerve liberation. The doctors told me that it is a very sensitive operation and we could not do it because of the displacement.” She adds: “the older Athari gets, the bigger the knee curvature in her left leg becomes. She has also developed a weak sensation of her foot ends and ulcers in the toes started to appear. She also started suffering psychologically because her friends turned away from her and avoided sitting with her fearing that her illness was contagious. Now she is very depressed that even when her condition gets worse, she refuses to receive any medical assistance.” 

Athari’s story is one of thousands of stories of the suffering that people suffer in Al-Rukban camp, which is witnessing an aggravated humanitarian crisis as a result of the siege imposed by the Syrian regime forces and the Jordanian government, after the organizations were prevented from entering aid into the camp located on the Syrian-Jordanian border amid a barren desert.

The camp houses about 60 thousand civilians. According to activists there, women constitute approximately a third as there is about 20 thousand women, and they suffer from tragic conditions especially medically, according to what media activist from Al Rukban camp Imad Ghali told Geiroon, indicating: “that the most common problem facing women is the medical treatment, especially the issue of caesarean deliveries as there is no hospital in the camp. During the past months, 20 women died during deliveries due to the lack of hospitals in the camp and the difficulty in reaching the Jordanian medical point.” 

On the other hand, teacher Safaa confirmed to Geiroon the need to find an urgent solution to that problem, saying: “the state of women in the camp is pitiful. Pregnant women and sick women suffer the most. In addition, women suffer due to the lack of milk for their children. The biggest image of suffering of women is during birth as there are no equipped hospitals but primitive midwives clinic, which lack many of the basic equipment necessary for the success of the delivery process.”  

In addition to poor health status, women suffer from severe food shortages as organizations are unable to deliver humanitarian aids. In addition, there is lack of safe drinking water so residents have to drink from running water. Moreover, due to poor living conditions, the camp began to witness the spread of family problems often leading to divorce until it has become a difficult phenomenon to hide.   

Ghali explains: “dozens of women in the camp were divorced during the past period, because husbands were unable to provide the needs of their families. Women became victims of the humanitarian crisis in the camp which, in its current state, does not provide any job opportunities for its residents, and where women are marginalized, except for several female teachers at school.”

He added: “women in Al Rukban camp also suffer the hardships of life in the desert, specially that most of the residents in the camp are city dwellers such as Homs, Palmyra, Al-Qaryatayn and Mahin. Therefore, it is difficult for women to adapt to the difficult living conditions in the desert camp.”

On the other hand, Ahmad Muhammad Al-Hayyan, the mayor of Al-Rukban camp, told Geiroon: “there are more than 3 thousand widowed women in the camp, and their condition is very difficult. Women also suffer from poor medical services and a scarcity of women’s supplies. The camp suffers from a worsening humanitarian crisis, and we appeal to the Jordanian government to intervene and assist.”

The suffering of women in Al-Rukban camp is an essential part of the general suffering in the camp that has worsened over the past days. Several deaths of women and children have been recorded due to poor health status, especially with the decision to close the only medical point of (UNICEF) last week.

Women’s rights activist and program director at (Shaml) Coalition Alia Matar assured Geiroon that “she sympathizes with women inside the camp because they are the most affected category by this humanitarian crisis. In addition to their suffering, they are affected by the suffering of their children in front of them without being able to do anything. As a mother, I know that this is one of the most difficult experiences a woman can go through.” 

As for the position of international organizations from this tragedy, Matar said: “relief work is no longer effective as people inside the camp; women in particular, need real advocacy capable of opening any roads to enter aid, food, water and help patients after Jordan has completely closed its borders to them. Currently, any disease is capable of killing anyone, let alone women who are more fragile and less immune to diseases. There must be immediate and serious action.”

The restrictions on the camp constitute a flagrant violation of human rights standards. By closing its borders to the camp’s residents and women patients in particular, the Jordanian government is violating Article 14 of the Human Rights Declaration signed in 1949 stipulating that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Moreover, by restricting the camp’s residents, the Syrian regime is violating Article 3 of the same declaration which stipulates that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

By repudiation of its responsibilities towards the Syrian citizens, the regime’s government is violating article 25/1 of the same declaration, which stipulates that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

Bassam Al-Ahmad, Director of (Syrians for Truth and Justice) organization told Geiroon: “the camp lacks the lowest human rights standards in terms of housing, drinking water, food and medical services. Unfortunately, children and women are the most marginalized and affected during wars.”

Al-Ahmad added: “I think that the problem of the camp began to exacerbate this period for a political goal in order to close this file, by pressuring the population and placing them in front of two options: either to reconcile and return to the areas controlled by the regime, or to leave towards northern Syria.”

Regarding the party responsible for what is happening in the camp, Al-Ahmad said: “one cannot tell if it is a camp for the internally displaced, which in that case the regime’s government would be responsible for what is happening, or if it is a camp for refugees from outside the borders which in that case would be Jordan’s responsibility. I think that it is a shared responsibility, and in light of this sensitive situation in the camp, the regime’s government and the Jordanian government both bear responsibility for opening roads to bring aids into the camp.”

The Syrian regime had agreed with the elders in the camp at the beginning of this month, to settle the situation of the camp residents in preparation for their return to areas controlled by the regime. It also pledged to open a medical point in a neutral area and to allow camp residents to be supplied with drinking water, and to let aid convoys in under the supervision of the Red Crescent.  However, the regime broke its pledge and did not implement any of the terms of the agreement, and closed the only road between As-Suwayda and the camp, preventing the delivery of food and medicine to the residents, in order to pressure them to accept its terms.

It is noteworthy that Al-Rukban camp is located inside the Syrian territories in the demilitarized international zone on the Syrian-Jordanian border. It was established in 2015 when thousands of families fled the cities of Palmyra, Al-Qaryatayn and Mahin east of Homs governorate, as a result of the battles between ISIS and the Syrian regime. The Jordanian government prevented civilians from crossing the border, forcing them to establish a camp on the border in the desert which lacked the minimum standards of living.

*This human rights story was produced with the support of Journalists for Human Rights organization (JHR) and the Donner Canadian Foundation.