In 2015 the Syrian town of Qaryatayn, home to both Muslims and Christians, fell to the Islamic State forcing thousands of residents to flee south. Although Syrian regime forces retook the town the same year, many residents instead chose to continue seeking refuge in Rukban. Multiple sources estimate that at least 75,000 displaced Syrians reside in Rukban’s informal settlement, thousands of whom are now fleeing as regime forces advance towards them. Christians in Syria experience targeted persecution from all sectors, and their geographical concentration in strategic territories increase their exposure to violence.
08/30/2017 Syria (Syria Direct) – Thousands of Syrians are streaming out of a remote displacement camp in the country’s southeastern desert for a third week on Tuesday, the director of the camp’s local council told Syria Direct, as regime forces now 100km southwest advance toward them along the Syrian-Jordanian border.
More than 75,000 displaced Syrians live in extreme poverty inside Rukban, a poorly supplied informal settlement located within an isolated no-man’s land on Syria’s southeastern border known as the “berm.” Food, water and medicine are scarce inside the camp. Armed gunmen roam among the tents at will and rule of law is virtually non-existent.
Today, “580 Rukban families,” or nearly 4,000 residents, of the camp are gone, the camp’s director, Mohammad Ahmad a-Darbas al-Khalidi, told Syria Direct from the remote settlement. Since the beginning of this month, hundreds of families have packed into trucks and paid smugglers steep bribes to flee northwest into Syria’s eastern desert.
For the families choosing to leave Rukban camp, it is at least their second time facing internal displacement.
Rukban residents are afraid of “intensified battles in southern Syria,” al-Khalidi said. “This is a direct reason for why they are leaving.”
Earlier this month, regime forces seized a 30-kilometer stretch of land along the Syrian-Jordanian border from Free Syrian Army-aligned rebels, coming to within 40 kilometers of the remote Hadalat camp. There, an estimated 5,000 displaced Syrians live in rebel-held desert territory 120km southwest of Rukban, still along the border with Jordan, without adequate food, water or shelter.
Dozens of Hadalat residents fled toward Rukban for relative safety in recent days as the frontline neared.
But on Monday, regime forces inched closer, reaching within 15 kilometers of Hadalat, Younis Salamah, a spokesman for the FSA-aligned Usud a-Sharqia militia involved in the fighting told Syria Direct.
Displaced Syrians watching the battles from afar in rebel-held Rukban fear the fighting could soon reach their own encampment.
“What if regime forces advanced onto [Rukban] camp while we were defenseless?” said 45-year-old Dureid Abu Ahmad, father of three. He left Rukban nearly two weeks ago with his wife and three sons, he told Syria Direct, and is now living in his hometown of Qaryatayn, in regime-held central Homs province. “We were afraid.”