Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blasted the US' inaction on the Rukban refugee camp, reiterating Moscow's long-standing concerns about the fate of refugees in the US-controlled territory.
"It's long past time to withdraw the refugees from the Rukban camp," Lavrov said, speaking to reporters following his meeting with Omani Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah in Moscow on Monday.
"We, along with the Syrian government, are calling for this to take place. But the United States and the extremists under their control who control this camp prohibit people from leaving," Lavrov added.
The diplomat expressed hope that representatives of the United Nations, who recently accompanied a second humanitarian relief convoy to Rukban, would "see that everything is far from being in order" at the camp, and report back on their findings to the UN Security Council.
"These individuals are suspected of terrorism, they are foreign terrorist fighters; this is precisely the term enshrined in the UN Security Council resolution, and these resolutions contain a very clear list of steps that need to be taken against these foreign terrorist fighters when they fall into the hands of countries fighting against terrorists," Lavrov said. "The first, absolutely indispensible step is transparency and the transfer of information about these individuals," he added.
The foreign minister pointed out that previously, the US would send individuals suspected of terrorism to its Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, "where they would hold them for years on end without trial…or illegally transferred these people to secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, resulting in a massive scandal." This is something that needs to be avoided this time around, according to Lavrov.
The Rukban refugee camp is situated near the US base in At-Tanf, Syria, around which US forces in the area have established a 55 km 'de-confliction zone'. US-backed militants in the area have blocked exits and entrances to the area. According to the World Health Organisation, the camp contains some 40,000 people, mostly women and children, with difficult conditions in the camp leading to the deaths of multiple refugees.
Damascus has repeatedly called on the US to withdrawal from its "illegal" southern Syrian outpost, while the Syrian and Russian militaries have accused Washington of retraining jihadist militants at At-Tanf for new operations against Syria.
*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.