Steppes fire: did coronavirus enter Syrian refugee camp?

MOSCOW, (BM) – Against the backdrop of the worldwide spread of COVID-19, refugees living in the US-controlled Rukban camp in southern Syria were in danger. In recent days, patients with symptoms characteristic of the coronavirus appeared in it.

It is impossible to establish whether they are really infected with this infection: there are no medical personnel and test systems in the camp to identify the pathogen. If the strain really entered the area where tens of thousands of people are crowded, then most likely it was brought by refugees from neighboring countries.

No access to help

As Izvestiya was told by sources familiar with the situation, cases of diseases with symptoms of coronavirus were recorded in the US-controlled Et-Tanf zone. Locals have a dry cough and fever. Outbreaks of the disease have already been reported in neighboring Jordan and Iraq. From there, the pathogen could enter the camp, where there is not even basic medical equipment.

The Syrian parliament told Izvestia that they did not have accurate data on the distribution of COVID-19 in Rukban, since the republic’s ministry of health did not have access to the camp. The area around it is controlled by militants of the Magavir As-Saura movement, as well as by the US military.

“The presence of Americans in Al-Tanf is an undisguised occupation of the territory of the SAR, which prevents us from assisting Syrian citizens who find themselves in Rukban,” the head of the Syrian parliament’s press service, Naji Ubeid, told Izvestia.

According to him, it is unlikely that Americans are concerned about the epidemiological situation at Rukban, since the people who get there are not important for the US military. The camp is located on the border with Jordan – 153 cases of coronavirus infection have already been recorded in this country.

Izvestia sent a request to the Central Command of the US Armed Forces and to the headquarters of Operation Inherit Resolt, but their servers block letters from Russian addresses. The correspondent of the publication sent questions from a personal account, but at the time of publication, no response was received.

Syrian Bastion

The Syrian government reported the first recorded case of pathogen infection on March 22 and immediately took active measures to contain the infection. Land borders were closed and civil aviation flights were canceled. Throughout the country from six in the evening until six in the morning, a curfew was imposed. Disinfection of public places and government buildings.

Serious security measures are being taken by the Russian military, serving in the territory of the UAR. As sources in the military department told Izvestia, foreigners have no access to the base of Khmeimim. All equipment that returns from the job will be sanitized. The staff measures the temperature three times a day and undergoes a medical examination regularly. The troops who interact with the Syrians are under special control. A stock of test systems has been created on the basis and a laboratory has been deployed for processing materials.

Warned more than once

The situation with coronavirus in refugee camps in the territory not controlled by the Syrian government worries WHO. It notes that the strong crowding of people, as well as their lack of access to clean water and medicines makes them especially vulnerable to respiratory infections. WHO fears that it will be impossible to control the virus when it enters such a local area. In an attempt to avoid disaster in the coming days, doctors plan to deliver several thousand tests for COVID-19 to Idlib.

The situation of refugees in Rukban in the US-occupied territory of Syria is much worse. There, in the barren desert, live up to 50 thousand people. They are denied access to WHO assistance. Deliveries of humanitarian supplies are hampered by the actions of the US military, who refuse to take responsibility for the refugees in the camp.

On March 21, the civilian authorities of the camp published an appeal to the UN and the entire international community asking for help. They reported that they had neither disinfectants, nor masks, nor quarantine tents. There are even no thermometers. A week ago, Jordan closed its medical center in Rukban because of an outbreak of coronavirus infection in its territory and completely deprived refugees of access to at least some medical care.

A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in January this year talks about strong unsanitary conditions at Rukban and low coverage of refugees and their children even with routine vaccinations. The desert camp lacks water. The Russian Center for the Reconciliation of the warring parties has also repeatedly announced the spread of various diseases in Rukban.

Earlier, Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Alexander Fomin in an interview with Izvestia stated that the military department was concerned about the fate of refugees from this camp. Living conditions there he called inhuman. “High mortality, lack of food, drinking water, lack of medical care,” – described the deputy minister of what is happening in the area of ​​Et-Tanf.

“The penetration of the virus into refugee places is the worst nightmare of the UN,” military expert Vladislav Shurygin told Izvestia. “There is zero sanitation, lack of medicine, tens of thousands of people live very crowded. In such conditions, the infection spreads like a fire in the desert. If an outbreak begins, people will most likely simply be abandoned – they will be surrounded and isolated until everyone gets sick there. Someone, of course, will survive.”

Origin unknown

COVID-19 can get into the Rukban from Jordan or Iraq, as well as with militants of the pro-American group Magavir As-Saura. They are constantly moving between the US base and the camp, located several tens of kilometers from it.

On March 25, the Pentagon reported 227 infected US troops and about 200 other members of their families and civilian contractors. Many of them fell ill abroad. To combat the spread of the virus, a 60-day ban was imposed on all troop movements outside the United States, except for the most necessary.

The virus can penetrate from neighboring states. As of Thursday, March 27, 346 cases and 29 dead were officially registered in Iraq. Foreign troops, fearing infection, are already being withdrawn from the country. The complete or partial evacuation of their soldiers from Iraq was announced by France and the Czech Republic.


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Editorial team / Anton Lavrov, Aleksey Ramm, Elnar Baynazarov, Roman Krezul / Izvestia

The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.