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Al-Rukban camp officials: Syria regime turning refugee shelters into detention centres

The Syrian regime is turning temporary refugee shelters in Homs into detention centres comparable to Abu Ghraib, the Public Relations and Policy Committee of Al-Rukban refugee camp has said in a new statement.

Officials running the camp on the Jordanian border condemned the treatment of returning refugees by the regime, who they say are lured to detention centres under the terms of reconciliation agreements, but often find themselves held there indefinitely.

Official spokesman Shukri Al-Shehab, told Syrian news agency Zaman Al-Wasl that the regime had established three centres in Homs to receive arrivals; some 3,000 people have left Al-Rukban camp so far this month after a Russian deal prompted many originally hailing from the eastern countryside of Homs and the city of Palmyra, to attempt the journey home.

However, upon arrival, families found themselves separated, with men and women reporting interrogation and torture by administrative officials, including rape. Whilst Russian troops are also at the site during the day, after their departure, militias loyal to the regime abuse prisoners with impunity.

According to Al-Shehab, at least three men have been killed at the centres, comparing the situation to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but that regime threats against those who tell their story has resulted in a lack of media coverage.

Earlier this month, Russia demanded that the Al-Rukban camp be closed, claiming that Syrians wanted to return to their homes which are once again under regime control. However, US-backed opposition forces have accused Russian military police and Syrian troops of blockading food and goods from accessing the camp in a bid to force residents to return prematurely.

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Al-Rukban, which lies along the demilitarised area between Jordan and Syria, has been inhabited by more than 60,000 Syrian refugees since 2014, most of whom originate from rural Homs, Hama, and Damascus

Since last June, President Bashar Al-Assad has implemented a suffocating siege on the camp, preventing the entry of all medical and food items. In November, US-backed Syrian opposition groups that operate in neighbouring territories confirmed that the regime had tightened the blockade further by closing all roads leading to the area. Two weeks later, some 15 people, including two new-born babies, died from a lack of supplies.

Whilst hundreds have been driven back into Syria due to the humanitarian crisis over the past few months, most have refused the offer due to fear of arrest and torture by the regime upon their return, fears Russian authorities claimed were unfounded.

Despite promising that those who ventured back would be able to freely return to their homes, the reports of abuse and reprisals have dissuaded many from making the trip, even as their future in Al-Rukban remains uncertain.

The Public Relations Committee said it held the UN and international community responsible for their continued inaction over the situation in the camp.

The war in Syria has killed more than 600,000 people since 2011, the vast majority by regime-allied forces. More than half of the country's 21 million population has been displaced, and the Assad government, led by the Muslim Alawite minority, has faced accusations of repopulation along sectarian lines. Some 14,000 Syrians are still being held in regime prisons, whilst the fate of a further 82,000 remain unknown.

READ: 11 dead in Syria clashes between Russia troops and pro-Iran militias

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