Amman- Al-Rukban camp has been without flour for three days, a consequence of Damascus’s tightening siege on it, leaving the 12,000 residents who remain there to rely on smugglers for food. 

A picture of a piece of bread sent to Syria Direct by Ali al-Qurawani, a 35-year-old father of three from eastern Homs and current resident of al-Rukban, serves as a grim summary of the situation in the camp.

“I bought a kilo of bread [approximately eight loaves] for 250 Syrian Lira ($ 0.45). But as you can see, the loaves are small and brown-colored. They’re made badly,” said al-Qurawani.

According to al-Qurawani, his family needs “4 kilos of bread a day, however the shortage of flour and increased price of bread has made this likely impossible in the coming days.”

A picture of the bread produced in al-Rukban, Monday. Source: Ali al-Qurawani

 

Officials and residents of al-Rukban told Syria Direct that there has been no flour in the camp for three days, a result of the government siege. Damascus has prevented any food from entering the camp, though small amounts have been smuggled in despite the blockade. 

“[One of the two] camp’s bakeries has stopped operating,” Amr al-Shawy, a media activist inside al-Rukban, told Syria Direct. “The [one still operating] produces bread, but of bad quality. They mix the wheat flour with barley feed meant for livestock.”

Syria Direct was unable to confirm if the allegation of mixing livestock feed with flour is true. 

Syrian government forces began the siege on al-Rukban in February 2019, after announcing the formation of a Russian-led “reconciliation council” and opening humanitarian corridors to facilitate the return of internally displaced Syrians from the camp to government-controlled areas. 

The dreadful living conditions in al-Rukban have forced thousands to make the journey to government-controlled territories through humanitarian corridors set up by Damascus and Moscow. 

“Close to 70% of al-Rukban’s residents have returned [to government-controlled territories] since last March,” Faisal al-Hadar, the director of al-Rukban’s civil administration, told Syria Direct.

“The current number [of residents] in al-Rukban is no more than 12,000. Before opening [the humanitarian corridors] and blocking the provision of basic supplies to [the camp], there were more than 40,000 residents.” 

Al-Hadar noted that “those who left the camp, did so out of necessity as a result of the deteriorating living conditions.”

Syrian government forces have tightened the blockade, preventing trucks from smuggling goods into the camp. This has led to a shortage of basic goods and foodstuffs in the camp and an “insane” rise in prices, according to al-Qurawani. 

“The average price for cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchinis is 750 Syrian Lira per kilo ($1.35). The price for a four-liter bottle corn oil can reach up to 4500 Syrian Lira ($8.20),” al-Qurawani told Syria Direct. These prices are considered quite high for Syria, especially given the fact that there are little-to-no work opportunities in the camp. 

The last aid caravan entered al-Rukban in February 2019 and was made up of 100 trucks carrying foodstuffs, vaccinations, and winter clothing. 

“What will be the camp’s fate?” 

In Ali al-Qurawani’s neighborhood in al-Rukban, there is little hope for the camp’s long-term future. The situation has grown particularly bleak as al-Qurawani’s neighbors left in droves, leaving the neighborhood “almost empty.”

Al-Qurawani does not know if one day he will too make the decision to return to the government-controlled territories. 

“There is danger all around us, and if you make the decision to return, you have to deal with that danger,” al-Qurawani said. “If you decide to stay, you have to deal with the [bad] quality of the bread and the high prices here.” 

“The number of residents leaving [al-Rukban] each week ranges between 400 and 500 people,” Faisal al-Hadar told Syria Direct.

An official in al-Rukban, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told Syria Direct that there has been discussions with the Jordanian side about the humanitarian situation within the camp, but that no action has been taken yet. 

According to al-Hadar, the civil administration in al-Rukban is unable to meet the needs of the residents in the camp and can only direct residents’ appeals for help to aid organizations. However, until now, “there has been no answer” to these appeals.

“The civil administration has not given us anything,” Ali al-Qurawani told Syria Direct. “We have no idea what their role is in helping us solve this crisis.” 

“We don’t know where this road will lead us!”