Russian UN ambassador urges immediate evacuation of Rukban refugees

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UNITED NATIONS, February 26./TASS/. It is necessary to immediately start evacuation of people from the Syrian Rukban refugee camp instead of wasting time on planning humanitarian convoys, Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya told a session of the UN Security Council on Syria on Tuesday.

“We suggest a way out of the existing situation and a stable solution to the Rukban problem,” Nebenzya said. “This is evacuation from the camp of all those who want this to the regions that they themselves choose,” he said. “This idea must begin to be implemented in short order, without wasting time on planning new convoys that only highlight disregard for international humanitarian law in that part of Syria,” Russia’s permanent representative said.

Nebenzya said a survey carried out at the camp by UN officers visiting Rukban suggested that 95% of its inhabitants want to leave it, emphasizing that “80% want to return to the territories under control of the Syrian authorities”.

Earlier at the session, Acting Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen urged Moscow and Damascus to assist in the dispatch of a third humanitarian convoy to Rukban before the end of March. He expressed confidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian authorities would ensure safe delivery of humanitarian aid.

The United Nations has welcomed efforts to evacuate refugees stranded at the Rukban camp on condition of compliance with all norms of international law, Reena Ghelani, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Officer-in-Charge, said on Tuesday.

“The UN welcomes all efforts to ease the suffering of people stranded at Rukban and to identify durable solutions,” she said. “These efforts, however, need to ensure that any return or relocation is voluntary, safe, dignified and well-informed, and abides by core protection standards in line with international humanitarian and human rights law,” said Reena Ghelani, OCHA’s Director of Operations and Advocacy.

According to her, “Dialogue is ongoing with communities in Rukban, the Russian Federation, the Syrian authorities and others to ensure that this will be the case in any relocation process”.

The Rukban camp is located in the Al-Tanf security zone, where a US military base is stationed. Militants from opposition units block access to the security zone, preventing the United Nations and the Syrian government from sending humanitarian convoys there. According to the World Health Organization, the Rukban camp currently hosts about 40,000 people, mostly women and children. Several people have died there because of harsh conditions.

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