BEIRUT (AP) — The U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have delivered badly-needed humanitarian assistance to more than 40,000 displaced people in a tent settlement near the Jordanian border, the U.N. said Friday, as Russia offered to help relocate those willing to move to government-held areas in Syria.
The World Health Organization said that the delivery to the Rukban camp in southeast Syria concluded Thursday. It was the second time aid reached the area; the first was in November.
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF described the delivery as the largest ever humanitarian convoy since the start of the Syria crisis nearly eight years ago.
Jordan closed the border over security concerns and the Syrian government and its ally Russia have blamed U.S. troops stationed nearby for failing to provide security for aid shipments — allegations denied by the Americans.
Many of the people staying in Rukban "are women and children who have been stranded in the desert in extremely harsh conditions for years," said Mr. Sajjad Malik, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria.
The UN and SARC teams distributed a one-month food ration to over 8,300 families, along with shelter materials and core relief items, including blankets, sleeping mats and water containers, WHO said.
It also said some 10,000 dignity kits were distributed to women and girls, while critical nutritional supplies were provided to young children. Essential medicine and equipment were provided, it added, and thousands of children were vaccinated.
UNICEF said 30 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 and recreational kits and education supplies for over 8,000 children.
It added that during a nine-day mission, UNICEF-supported vaccinators were able to immunize thousands of children.
WFP spokeswoman Marwa Awad, however, lamented that "there is not a single doctor inside this settlement to assist with treatment of people who are sick." She said the estimated 40,000 people living or stranded in the settlement are relying on nurses that are not always well trained.
The delivery came two weeks after U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock urged Syria's warring parties to ensure the delivery, as cold winter months are exacerbating an already dire situation for Syrians stranded in the Rukban camp.
The Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides in Syria, in coordination with the Syrian government, will set up temporary accommodation centres for refugees in the Rukban camp, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Friday.
The centres will open in the Jleb and Jabal al-Ghurab areas on Feb. 19, he said, adding that warm accommodation, hot meals, basic necessities and medical assistance would be provided.
Motor vehicles will also be allocated to safely take refugees to their places of permanent residence in areas controlled by the Syrian government, added Konashenkov.