In the Jordanian city of Ramtha, close to the Syrian border, tensions are rising between the Syrian refugees and Jordanian authorities, who have recently decided to put many of those refugees under house arrest. This comes in the wake of a similar decision that involved hundreds of Palestinian refugees with Syrian papers.
According to stories told by those fleeing the violence in Syria, the Jordanian police has tightened their control over the scores of refugees coming from across the northern border. They are especially monitoring the youth among them.
The authorities have also transformed a sports stadium in a remote desert region in Ramtha into a quasi-prison housing hundreds of young Syrians. The police units guarding the stadium’s main gates have barred entry to those without official permits — and obtaining a permit requires passing a complicated security process.
But through repeated attempts, we gained entry into the stadium via the tall fences that surround it. We did this so so that we may convey what we’ve seen and relay the stories that young people told us about their miserable living conditions. According to the activist Ahmed Homsi, who sleeps on the stadium’s cement floor, their conditions “are as deprived as the ones they endured in [their own] country.”
The young man, who identified himself as an Internet activist, led us inside the stadium where dozens of young men — many of whom are wounded — are being housed. With an anguished tone, he explained to us how “the dungeon’s inhabitants are suffering because of no fault of their own.”
On our way to that dark place, we saw young men in torn clothes lying about on the stairs leading to the basement, their slender bodies covered with blankets that bore the logo of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Refugees. Shocking scenes awaited us as we went further and saw dozens of young men piled between walls covered in moisture and rot. Foul smells emanated from those places designated as bathrooms, and swarms of insects and mice milled about.
Many of the young men detained in the basement spoke of the shrapnel fragments and bullets that they still carry in their worn bodies, affirming that this was “proof of the horrendous situation in Syria.”
Ali al-Derawi was shot in his right leg during confrontations in his hometown of Dael. He crossed over barbed-wire barricades into Jordan along with dozens of fugitives under the cover of fog and darkness.
“I came to Jordan to escape certain death, but life in this place is no better than an animal’s. There is no hygiene, services or food except for the one daily meal that is provided by the relief agency,” he said.
“The basement in which we live could be mistaken for a sheep’s pen. They herd us here like cattle,” another added.
Fadi Harmouch, who is using a pseudonym as he has recently escaped from Syria, talked about the poor health conditions from which some of the wounded in the basement are suffering. “The Jordanian authorities refused to take them to the hospital for treatment,” he said.
One of the wounded detainees suffers from constant migraines, and claimed, “the regime’s thugs killed my mother and only sister in front of my eyes.”
In a trembling voice, another present detainee said: “We were wrong to come to Jordan; death at the hands of the regime’s thugs is much more merciful.”
Many in the basement confirmed to Al-Hayat that they had filed requests with the local authorities to return to Syria as a result of the terrible conditions. However, the Jordanians refused this request. This refusal drove a number of those who filed the requests to escape from the basement, only to make their way onto the the wanted lists of Jordanian security agencies.
Syrian opposition sources told Al-Hayat that “more than two thousand refugees filed requests with Jordanian authorities to return to their home country, all in vain.”
Syrian activists in Amman who asked that their names be withheld said that “a few days ago, Jordanian security confiscated satellite communication devices [operating on the Thuraya Network] that some activists attempted to smuggle into the Syrian city of Deraa.”
The activists also complained about security agencies confiscating the money transfers that many of them received “in case they were sent to arm the rebels.”
Political writer and analyst Fahd Al-Khaitan believes that Jordan’s toughness in dealing with those entering and exiting the northern border “is due to intelligence that the authorities possess, which indicates that over six thousand trained al-Qaeda members entered Syrian territory in the past few months.”
Al-Khaitan also said, “Jordan is worried about activities on its soil that might facilitate the flow of weapons to Syria.”
A Jordanian government source said anonymously, “Putting some young Syrian men under house arrest was necessary to preserve higher Jordanian interests because we are worried that they may sneak back into Syria. Syrian authorities might view this as a tacit agreement by Jordan to aid armed militias or individuals entering its territories to fight.” But the same source affirmed Jordan’s support for Syrian refugees “within the limits of its capabilities.”
“The authorities have started readying new mobile homes inside Ramtha proper, so that Syrian families may be transferred there,” he continued.
The source confirmed that around 120 thousand Syrian refugees have entered the Kingdom of Jordan since the Syrian crisis erupted in March of last year. Most of them are staying with relatives in the northern cities of Mafraq and Ramtha.