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Former Rukban Residents Killed Under Torture in Sednaya Prison Following Return to Regime-Controlled Areas

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According to the Tribal Council of Palmyra and Badia, two Syrian men, Moayad al-Obaid and Abdulaziz Al-Obaid, died under torture in the Assad regime’s notorious Sednaya prison. The military prison, located 30 kilometers north of Damascus, has allegedly tortured and executed more than 30,000 detainees since the start of the Syrian war over ten years ago. 

The father and son previously resided in the al-Rukban refugee camp, an internationally displaced persons camp located in an arid territory boarding Jordan and Iraq. Moayad al-Obaid and Abdulaziz Al-Obaid reportedly left Rukban in 2020 due to deteriorating conditions in the camp. 

After negotiating the conditions of their resettlement in regime controlled areas with the Syrian Red Crescent and the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, the two men returned to their hometown of Al-Qaryatayn in the eastern countryside of Homs. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), they were arrested by regime forces and Hezbollah-affiliated militias only two months after their resettlement, and were disappeared with only rumors of their detention at Sednaya.

On November 1st, the Middle East Monitor reported that news of the father and son’s death had reached their family. According to a source close to the Al-Obaid family, who spoke to the news outlet, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, ”the regime security apparatus arrested Moayad and his son two months after their return and took them to an unknown place. Two days ago, the family received the news of their death, but it has not received the bodies.”

The two men’s departure from Rukban and their subsequent death and torture at the hands of the Assad regime reinforces the fact that destitute conditions of refugee camps forces internationally displaced persons to return to dangerous regime controlled areas. 

According to the Syrian Emergency Task Force’s report, Rukban: War of Attrition on Civilians, “Rukban’s remaining residents are amongst the most vulnerable people in Syria. They face persistent risk of starvation, water shortages, lack of education and medical care, inclement weather, and unemployment. For the camp’s residents, the only way to obtain medical care is to return to Assad-controlled territories, where regime authorities have been known to detain people leaving Rukban.” 

The report continues by saying, “several reports suggest that pregnant Rukban residents forced to seek medical care in Assad-controlled territory were detained and prevented from returning to their families. Those forced to return out of desperation face forced conscription, detention, or even extrajudicial killings.” 

Indeed, a Rukban community leader affirmed that the regime does “not allow anyone to return after treatment. When someone leaves the prison, that person then goes back to their home, but if they want to return to Rukban, that person can return through smuggling, but pays very large sums to do so.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Rt. Hon. David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in May 2019. Delivering his address, “The Humanitarian Impact of Eight Years of War in Syria,” Miliband acknowledged that those who fled Rukban were in danger of being tortured and executed upon their return to regime controlled areas.