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Amnesty urges Jordan to offer medical care to displaced Syrians amid pandemic

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Syrian refugee patients from Rukban refugee camp, which lies in the no-man's-land off the border between Syria and Jordan, cross over to visit a UN-operated medical clinic immediately on the Jordanian-side for checkups, on March 1, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Amnesty International has called on Jordanian officials to provide urgent medical care to thousands of internally displaced people stranded at a refugee camp near Syria’s southern frontier with the country, in light of a possible outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the area.

“While the Jordanian authorities are right in seeking to protect the population living in Jordan from COVID-19, they must not put others’ lives at risk while doing so,” Lynn Maalouf, the Middle East Research Director at the human rights group, said on Thursday.

She added, “The one medical centre remaining in the berm is simply not equipped for emergency care or specialized treatment. Pregnant women and other patients in urgent need of care have nowhere to turn to.”

“The Jordanian authorities must allow those seeking medical treatment to access facilities in Jordan, and also allow humanitarian aid and essential services to reach the area,” Maalouf pointed out.

The remarks come as Russian and Syrian Joint Coordination Committees on Repatriation of Syrian Refugees have already described Rukban refugee camp as the "death camp." The site is reportedly home to some 25,000 internally-displaced Syrians, mostly women and children.

Just a handful of humanitarian aid convoys have reached the camp in recent years, the last of which was in February 2019.

Jordan closed its border with Syria following an attack on its soldiers by Daesh Takfiri terrorists back in 2016. 

On April 20, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi informed the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, that he would not allow humanitarian aid to the Rukban camp to pass through the Jordanian soil.

Safadi said in a post published on his official Twitter page that assistance intended for the camp “must go through Syria.”

He added that sending assistance to the refugees is the responsibility of the UN and Syria, and Jordan would not be involved as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

In a joint statement on March 28, the interagency coordination headquarters of Russia and Syria, attributed the humanitarian crisis in Rukban refugee camp to the illegal occupation of the area by American forces.

“We believe that the American side’s reluctance to exert influence on their [allied] militants in order to ensure unhindered departure of people from the camp and safe activities of humanitarian representatives in the At-Tanf zone is a clear evidence of its intention”, the statement noted.

The headquarters stated that the US military is using Rukban as an “assembly line for training extremists.”

The statement also pointed to the Damascus’ readiness to test all those leaving the refugee camp for the novel coronavirus, and “to organize their hospitalization and treatment if infected.”

Diseases that are treatable elsewhere can be life-threatening in Rukban, since there is not a proper medical facility for the camp’s only doctor to work in.

Last year, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said at least eight internally displaced Syrian children had lost their lives because of freezing temperatures and the lack of medical care at the camp.

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