NEW YORK/DAMASCUS, 15 February 2019 - UNICEF-supported vaccinators were able to immunize thousands of children during a 9-day mission to the remote makeshift settlement in Rukban at the border with Jordan, home to more than 40,000 people – mostly women and children.
As another day in #Rukban winds down, it is an opportunity to acknowledge our strong partnership with (SARC) @SYRedCrescent for all children in #Syria. Through joint efforts of @SYRedCrescent & @UNinSyria, thousands of children in Rukban have a warm blanket and are vaccinated pic.twitter.com/nCJJCQeAW9— Fran Equiza (@franequiza) February 13, 2019
The joint UNICEF, UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent mission to Rukban is the largest humanitarian delivery in Syria’s eight-year crisis. Thirty of the convoy’s 118 trucks were loaded with UNICEF’s life-saving supplies for children, including health and nutrition supplies for an estimated 20,000 children and mothers; hygiene kits for more than 40,000 people; recreational kits; and education supplies, including school books, stationery and school bags, for over 8,000 children.
“Children in Rukban and other hard-to-reach areas of Syria are still fighting for their very survival and need urgent humanitarian assistance before it is too late,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, who visited Syria in December last year. “This latest humanitarian convoy allowed us to deliver desperately needed support to some of the most vulnerable children and families. While this is a welcome step, we continue to urge all parties to grant us regular, sustained and unconditional access to all children across Syria.”
Access to health services in the area is extremely limited: there are no certified doctors and only a few poorly supplied clinics. Since December last year, at least eight children, most of them newborns, died in the camp because of freezing temperatures and lack of medical care.
“The winter months have been incredibly harsh for mothers and children in Rukban. Their health is weakened from poor nutrition and the extremely difficult living conditions,” said UNICEF Representative in Syria, Fran Equiza, who accompanied the convoy. “With no access to adequate medical facilities and no qualified medical personnel, a simple complication during childbirth can be fatal for mothers or their babies.”
Almost 3,000 school-age-children in Rukban are out of school because of overcrowded classrooms, lack of qualified teachers and difficult financial conditions. With very limited income-earning opportunities, the SYP 2,000 ($3.5) monthly school fee is unaffordable for most families.
“Even in overcrowded mud classrooms, where children sit on the ground and the blackboard is a piece of paper pinned to the wall, I met children eager to learn and delighted to see their new school bags,” said Equiza. “For these children the school is much more than a place of learning. It also provides them with a safe space from their harsh reality outside the school’s walls.”
Parents and children in the makeshift camp raised many protection concerns including child labour, early marriage, violence against children and fear of violence against girls and women.
“The humanitarian situation in the camp remains desperate for the children and families stranded in this remote area,” said Equiza. “The needs, especially for food, water, health care and shelter are dire. Humanitarian deliveries are only a temporary solution.”
While this week’s convoy is a welcome step, UNICEF continues to advocate with all parties to provide sustained and unconditional access to all children in Syria. All parties to the conflict have an obligation and a responsibility to facilitate humanitarian access to all reach children in need wherever they are in the country and no matter who controls the area they are in.
UNICEF, with UN agencies in Syria, continue to call for a safe, voluntary, long-term solution to help families in Rukban, whether through facilitating the voluntary return to their homes or to a place of their choosing in safety and dignity.