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Thursday, 20 June 2019

Rukban camp: A case study in reviewing the UK’s protection of civilians strategy



Dr Kate Ferguson

Excerpted from Preventing While Protecting: The UK’s Protection of Civilians Strategy in review, a report by Protection Approaches.

Rukban camp, Southern Syria

Rukban is a camp of tens of thousands of displaced Syrians who have fled violence elsewhere in the country but have been prevented from crossing over the nearby border into Jordan. The camp lies next to the Tanf US military base and falls within a 55 kilometre radius ‘de-confliction zone’ controlled by the Global Coalition against Daesh. The UK helps to defend the Tanf zone. While the UK may not consider itself singularly responsible for Rukban, those inside the de-confliction zone nonetheless fall within the care of the UK’s broader protection of civilian commitments.

The deteriorating humanitarian situation inside Rukban has led to growing concerns about the safety and well-being of Syrians within the camp, as well as those who have now left for temporary regime-run shelters in Homs via ‘humanitarian corridors’ set up by Russian forces in February 2019. Assad’s forces and allies are deliberately blocking food and medical aid from reaching Rukban, effectively forcing thousands of vulnerable people—including women and children—to leave the camp. There are reports that some of these civilians face conscription, arrest, torture, or death once entering regime-controlled territory.

Rukban is a civilian protection crisis for the international community. The level of humanitarian suffering experienced by those remaining within the camp, and the fate of many of the thousands that have left, illustrate the limits of current protection frameworks. Even when vulnerable populations reach the apparent safety of the Coalition zone of military control, there is a singular lack of clarity about the extent to which these forces and their partners are able or willing to uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians from identity-based violence, torture, and direct or indirect forced displacement.

The UK’s commitments to the people in Rukban, and the Syrian people more broadly, cut across its stated responsibilities to help protect populations from mass atrocities and to protect civilians in armed conflict. Given the widespread, systematic, and deliberate nature of the targeting of civilians throughout the crisis, any POC activities which the UK engage in require the additional analytical framework of atrocity prevention.

If the UK were to integrate the concept of ‘preventing while protecting’ into its analytical and decision-making framework in Rukban, it would at the very least assist UK POC actors in ‘doing no harm’ and inadvertently leaving Rukban populations vulnerable to future atrocities.

Immediate prevention could include: Prioritising the direct delivery of aid by UK and international Coalition forces and/or Jordan to alleviate the desperate conditions that force many back to territory where atrocities are ongoing.

Mitigation prevention could include: Investing in medium-term safeguarding of Rukban camp against further possible incursions by Syrian and Russian forces, and working with Jordan to facilitate asylum and resettlement in order to prevent de facto refoulement.

Long term prevention could include: Supporting community and capacity-building within the camps and Jordanian communities at the border including peace education, trauma support, and other safeguarding.

Download the full report from Protection Approaches.

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