Displaced Syrians in Jordan: ‘Syria Smells of Death’

Tamer al-Samadi talks to Syrian refugees and Jordanians who live on the Jordanian-Syrian border who recount their harrowing experiences fleeing Syria and tell of the destruction they've witnessed. 

al-monitor A Syrian refugee who fled the violence in Syria is seen at Bashabsha camp near the Jordanian city of Al Ramtha, at the Syrian border, July 17, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Ali Jarekji.

Topics covered

syrian refugees, syrian conflict, syrian crisis, syrian, syria civil war, syria-jordan border, refugee camps jordan, daraa

Jul 25, 2012

“The smell of death coming from the villages of our parents in Daraa, Syria, fills the air.” Such statements are frequently heard when talking to local residents of the Jordanian city of al-Ramtha, which is about three kilometers away from Daraa.

According to local residents, those living in al-Ramtha “have become accustomed to hearing the sound of shells, which are falling daily over the heads of the residents of Daraa and their besieged villages.”

As one enters the towns around al-Ramtha, which directly neighbor the villages of Daraa, a glaring reality reveals itself. These towns are only a few meters away from the cycle of violence taking place in Syria, and they have been burdened by the killings and displacement perpetrated by forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The situation in the villages of al-Torra and al-Shajara validates the stories being circulated by poor Jordanians living in small houses made of brick and concrete from the area. Walking through the villages’ narrow alleys, one can hear the sound of heavy shooting and intermittent shelling.

“It's a raging battlefield,” says Jordanian national Ahmad al-Zo’bi, 66,  who comes from the Jordanian town of al-Shajara.

He expressed regret over the situation in Syria. “Those who are being killed on the other side are our people and neighbors,” he said, weeping. “My daughter lives with her husband and her Syrian children on the other side. We do not know anything about their fate. We haven’t been able to communicate with them for several weeks.”

As we passed dozens who had stopped to watch plumes of smoke rise from the north, we came across Salim al-Sharaa, 33, who had fled from the village of Nasib in Daraa.

Sharaa sighed exhaustedly. “The killing has been continuous for a month. People are being slaughtered in the streets at the hands of the shabiha [government thugs], and the security forces and the army are firing in all directions. Even mosques have not been spared from the bombing,” he said.

Sharaa expressed his fear that Nasib might turn into a ghost town. “The intense bombardment of the city has pushed hundreds of families to flee to Jordan to escape the bloodbath,” he said.

At one of the residential units set up for refugees by the Jordanian government two kilometers from the Syrian border, children play, indifferent to the ordeals of their parents.

Ahmed, 27, who is dark-skinned with a disheveled beard, fled from the town of al-Karak in Daraa. “My town has, over time, become an unsafe place. We no longer dare to send the children to school. Many of them have been killed or raped by security personnel and the shabiha,” he said.

Sheikh Talal al-Fadel, 48, said that he came to Jordan a few days ago. He said that he was carried under cover of darkness by soldiers from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and civilians over a distance of more than five kilometers.

Fadel, the Imam of a mosque in the ​al-Hirak area, was shot in his left foot as he was being chased by army personnel. He says he has been “accused of inciting [the people] against the regime.”

He also says that the security forces have “intensified their bombardment of Daraa and its villages over the past two days, and imposed a heavy blockade on the National Hospital in order to arrest the wounded and seize the bodies of the martyrs.”

“The southern neighborhood in the town of al-Hirak has emptied over the past few days,” he said.

Another eyewitness, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “The southern neighborhood has been completely evacuated, and its 4,000 inhabitants, including me, have fled to other cities inside Syria or have taken refuge in Jordanian villages adjacent to the border.”

According to Binan, 25, a mother of two children, “Residents of the village of al-Musayfra in Daraa are dying under heavy shelling.”

Like many, Mustafa, who asked not be identified by his full name, recently fled to al-Ramtha with his family after the regime's forces raided his village Malihat al-Atash. According to him, Assad loyalists burned hundreds of homes whose owners had participated in protests.

We flocked toward al-Ramtha by the hundreds. We crossed the mine field on the border indifferent to the bullets showering down on us. But we lost a number of wounded persons in the border area of Tal Shehab,” he said.

He adds: “We ran in the darkness while herds of shabiha haunted us from every direction. We lost more than ten wounded people, and we still do not know whether they are alive or have become martyrs.”

While many wounded Syrians were lucky to escape death, others arrived to Jordan wounded but died later.

Jordanians and refugees in al-Ramtha have held funerals over the past few days for several wounded Syrians who died after arriving in Jordan.

One Syrian refugee died after suffering a stroke upon his arrival in Jordan. It is a scene that summarizes the stories of illness and fear witnessed by fleeing Syrians on the unsafe escape routes to Jordan. 

Syrians and Jordanians have become neighbors not only in homes and hospital beds, but also, many say, in graves.

Jordanian officials say that the city of al-Ramtha currently hosts more than 20,000 Syrians who began to flee to the Kingdom at the beginning of the protests.

Al-Ramtha has close economic links to Daraa, and residents of the two areas share kinship ties.

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