More than 7,000 people have left a desperate desert camp for displaced Syrians near the Jordanian border since March, a United Nations spokesperson said Friday.
According to the U.N.’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA, around 36,000 people remained in the isolated Rukban camp near Al-Tanf base used by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, after over 4,000 left between March and April 21.
The Syrian government and key backer Russia said in February they had opened corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave.
“Since March, over 7,300 people have left Rukban,” OCHA spokesman David Swanson told AFP, including some 3,000 who left after April 21.
While the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is urging residents to leave the camp, the United States on Friday condemned what it said were efforts from the government to prevent deliveries of aid from U.N.
“The United States is appalled by the Assad regime’s decision to reject the U.N. request to deliver a convoy of urgently needed humanitarian aid from Damascus to the Rukban encampment,” a spokesperson for the State Department said in a statement.
“We remain deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Rukban, especially as the Holy Month of Ramadan is about to begin.”
Those who have quit the camp have moved to collective shelters in the central city of Homs or resettled in their areas of origin in the province of the same name, OCHA said Thursday.
It said Rukban residents were organizing their own transportation to the edge of a de-escalation zone established around Al-Tanf, from where they either continued in their vehicles or were transferred by private or government-provided vehicles to four collective shelters in Homs city.
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) April 26, 2019
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says those returning to government-held parts of Homs from Rukban had struck so-called “reconciliation deals” with the Syrian government.
Conditions inside Rukban are dire, with many surviving on just one simple meal a day, often bread and olive oil or yogurt, according to one resident.
In January, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said eight children had died at the camp due to winter cold and lack of resources.
“We’ve nicknamed it the camp of death,” Abu Nashwan, a camp resident, said in October.
The camp has been particularly difficult to reach due to its location on the Jordanian border and the proximity of U.S. forces and the rebels they support.
In February, a humanitarian convoy of 133 trucks delivered food, clothes, healthcare items and medical supplies to the camp’s residents.
The February 6 delivery was just the second in three months.
Syria’s civil war killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.