Jordanian Officials Build Refugee Camps for Syrians Fleeing Violence

Article Summary
Officials in Jordan have ordered the construction of refugee camps for the thousands of Syrian’s crossing the border. These refugees include deserters from the army, which has attacked the camps from across the border. Jordanian officials have been careful not too take on any combative language against the Syrian regime, writes Tamer al-Smady.

On the rough terrain of Raba' al-Sarhan - a Jordanian village close to the Syrian border - the Jordanian government is in the process of building camps for the Syrian refugees [fleeing the regime's crackdown]. The ride through the tiny streets leading to the village near the Jordanian City of Mufraq (100 km east of the capital Amman) was tortuous and bumpy, not to mention that drilling works were underway [on the road].

Entering the 20,000 square-meter camp by car was difficult. Taking photos inside was also risky, because approaching the camp was prohibited by the local authorities which designated it a military area. Access to the camp required the official permission of the intelligence services and a long series of complicated procedures.

Official Leaks

While bulldozers and trucks carried large amounts of sand and concrete to the worksite, the voices of workers and architects mixed with the sound of electrical drills in the area, which will soon include more camps. According to official leaks, the project is part of a [contractual bid] worth millions of dollars, and is being carried out in Jordan under international logistical and security supervision. The camp is being surrounded with barbed wire, and the Jordanian army's armored vehicles are parked idle meters away from the site.

The Jordanian government has refused to speak about the camp. Officials are confused, and many refused to speak publicly to Al-Hayat about the details of the project and the identity of the parties financing it. However, a prominent Jordanian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "the Kingdom is preparing for the worst as a result of the escalating turmoil in Syria."

"This kind of express statement could leave the impression among external and internal parties that Jordan might be involved in future events," said writer and political analyst Fahad All-Khitan, who justified the prudence of the Jordanian Government [in speaking of] the establishment of the camp on its territory.

In addition to Raba' al-Sarhan camp, the Qur’an and Sunnah Association launched a campaign to establish two other camps - in cooperation with the Hashemite Charity Committee and certain Saudi charity parties - that will have an area of 50 donums [1 donum is 1000 square meters] each, confirmed the President of Zayed Hammad Charity Foundation.

"Each camp can accommodate one thousand Syrian families. A thousand dwellings are being built, each containing one bathroom and kitchen per family."

Our constant search for information on the Raba' al-Sarhan camp has led us to the deputy representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan, Arafat Jamal. Jamal told Al-Hayat that the "Raba' al-Sarhan camp was established under the auspices of the Jordanian Government to accommodate the influx of Syrian refugees."
According to Jamal, infrastructure is being established in the 20,000 square-meter camp to house about 3,000 refugees.

He also added that UNHCR is working on developing [facilities] in a large area in the city of Zarqa, which lies about 25 km of the capital Amman. Jordan is getting ready for a new flow of refugees fleeing [the crackdown] in Syria.

"UNHCR has prepared blankets, equipped kitchens, set up [temporary shelters] and provided all life necessities in case of any emergency [in Syria]," added Jamal.

The UNHCR deputy representative said that the Syrian refugees in Jordan reached some 3000 according to the UN records. He also referred to other large number which the UNHCR was not able to count.

Six Thousand Families

The Jordanian Government said that there are no accurate figures on the numbers of the refugees who managed to cross its border. However, Salam al-Bitar, a member of the Syrian National Council,  said that six thousand Syrian families fled from Syria to the Jordanian cities since mid-March 2011.

According to al-Bitar, "around 30,000 Syrian citizens have taken shelter in Mann, Kark, Maadaba, Mufraq, Ramtha, Salt, Zarqa and the capital Amman."

The UNHCR fears that the number of the Syrian people fleeing to Jordan will rise as repression continues against the Syrian regime's opponents. The UNHCR deputy representative in Jordan pointed out that the Jordanian Government is coordinating with the donor countries so as to avoid a humanitarian crisis on the northern Jordanian border with Syria.

Some NGOs active in providing assistance to refugees, said that 1800 Syrian families are residing in the city of Ramtha. Syrian refugees were [placed in the responsibility of] 180 Jordanian families who offer them blankets, cooking utensils, electrical appliances and medical services.

Similar services have been provided to the rest of the refugees, who are scattered in other parts of the kingdom.

The "Qur’an and Sunnah" Association, which activey provides logistics services to refugees, said that the number of Syrian families in the border town of Irbid is on the rise. The people's committees in Irbid have launched a campaign to collect medical and food aid needed by the Syrians.

In a striking development, an official source told Al-Hayat that the Jordanian Government decided to admit all Syrian students residing in the kingdom into its schools, exempting them from tuition and book fees.

As Syrian families continue to flow into Jordan, official sources have confirmed to Al-Hayat that dozens of Syrian army deserters have fled to the Kingdom. "Syrian soldiers entered the Kingdom illegally. Some are in poor health." The Jordanian authorities are keeping a watchful eye on the army dissidents who managed to enter Jordanians border towns," said the sources.

One of the dissident Syrian officers, Mohamed al-Der'awi told Al-Hayat how he fled to Jordan, "escaping a nightmare."

"Syrian are killed in cold blood in Syria. Officials in Deraa order us to kill civilians, and everyone who refuses to obey their orders face death," he said.


Al-Der'awi told Al-Hayat how he crossed the muddy roads near the Jordanian-Syrian border to escape being killed. "I hid among the olive trees and waited for the night to fall, for fear that I might be chased by the army. Then I ran across tens of kilometers until I reached the Jordanian city of Ramtha," the dissident officer said.

One of the young [Syrian] refugees in Jordan, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, told Al-Hayat that his city, Deraa, is under suffocating siege. He added that before fleeing to Jordan, he and his friends discovered four mass graves of people who had participated in the revolution.

Tensions are still high on the border between Jordan and Syrian, said the people living a few meters away from the Syrian city of Deraa.

The spokesman of the Jordanian Government, Minister Rakan al-Majali pointed out to "illegal" infiltration of certain families into the Jordanian territory. "The Jordanian authorities are providing the Syrian brothers with as much humanitarian aid as possible," al-Majali told Al-Hayat.

Over the past days, the Syrian regime has fired on the families who had managed to flee to Jordan. However, al-Majali denied any Jordanian army involvement in retaliatory actions against the Syrian forces.

Meanwhile, the Jordanian Government emphasized its continued efforts to prevent militants from illegally infiltrating Syrian territory.

A few days ago, the local [Jordanian] authorities referred a Syrian militant to State Security Court on charges of attempting to infiltrate into Syria, but he was released later on. The militant's relatives confirmed his release to Al-Hayat, and said he will not be able to talk to the media.

The released Syrian revolutionary lives in Amman as a refugee and is registered on the UNHCR lists [of refugees].

Prominent sources close to Jordanian decision-makers say that the Jordanian officials have expressed concern that the protests in Syria are escalating.

The Jordanian officials fear that the deteriorating security situation in Syrian cities, and the outbreak of civil war will have a direct impact on Jordan and the entire region, says analyst [Fahad] al-Khitan.

According to information obtained by Al-Hayat, Jordanian decision-makers are putting forth a formal strategy to address the Syrian upheaval. The Jordanian authorities will examine all possible solutions, and will avoid antagonizing the Syrian regime in a direct way through official media statements. The kingdom emphasized that it will receive Syrian dissidents in its territory and support refugees by providing them with treatment and housing. Jordanian officials said that the Syrian crisis is not likely to be solved in the near future and that it will likely drag on.

According to certain prominent political sources informed of King Abdullah II’s visit to Washington, President Barack Obama spoke of the need to weaken the Syrian regime through diplomatic means. Therefore, as the option of a military intervention is increasingly ruled out, the conflict will surely endure.

Found in: unhcr, syrian refugees, syrian crackdown, syrian, syria crisis, regional politics, refugee camps in jordan, raba' al-sarhan camp, jordanian government, jordanian-syrian relations, deraa, bashar al-assad, abdullah ii

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