Jordan Shuts Down Border Crossings From Syria

Just as thousands of displaced persons from newly liberated villages in southern Syria flee toward Jordan, the kingdom’s authorities have shut down illegal crossings, leaving many stuck in abysmal conditions at the border.

al-monitor Syrian refugees wait for treatment at a Doctors of the World medical center at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, June 11, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

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syrian, jordan

Jun 13, 2013

Over the past four days, Jordan has witnessed a significant decrease in the number of Syrians fleeing from the protracted civil war. Jordanian officials confirmed to Al-Hayat that the government took an undeclared decision to close dozens of illegal crossing points between the two countries, and to “limit” the entry [of refugees] through the other border crossings.

Jordanian and Syrian relief workers and military leaders of the Syrian opposition forces told Al-Hayat that some border crossings have become overcrowded with thousands of refugees “after the Jordanian authorities refused them entry without giving clear reasons.” They added that the Jordanian decision “has caused a humanitarian disaster at the border.” [They also added that] among those who are stuck, there are “injured civilians, women, children and elderly who suffer from food and medicine shortages.”

A video obtained by Al-Hayat shows shocking scenes of mothers and children lying down on barren ground near the Jordanian-Syrian border after they were prevented from entering the refugee camps, which were built in northern Jordanian villages. Ali Derawi, a 45-year-old Syrian from the village of Heit, told Al-Hayat by telephone, “We have been stuck near the Jordanian-Syrian border for four days, fleeing inevitable death. We have not been treated with dignity, we ran out of food and water, and we were prevented from crossing [into Jordan], without being given a reason.”

Mohammed Rifai, 60, wondered where they could go, adding that he would wait for his worries to be driven away. An elderly woman with a quavering voice said, “We escaped the injustice of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad to [be subject to] the injustice of our people and brethren. Please help us.”

Fighters affiliated with the Syrian opposition forces that are in charge of ensuring that refugees are crossing the Jordanian border said that they had made extensive contacts with Jordanian officers to try to find out the reasons behind the decision, to no avail. Mohammed Hariri, a leader in the Free Syrian Army, explained to Al-Hayat that the decision to close some border crossings and to limit the number of entries through other crossing points has led to a large accumulation of refugees, particularly in Tell Shihab in Daraa.  He pointed to the difficult humanitarian situation that the displaced Syrians have experienced, given shortages of food and medicine and the completely depleted flour stores. He added, “Two days ago, Jordanian officers told us that Army Day celebrations were the reason behind the closure.” He continued, “The situation is extremely difficult in the border villages. A single house hosts more than one family. The mosques, schools and basements are overcrowded with thousands of refugees. … Even civilians seeking treatment have been returned, except for those who have serious injuries.”

For his part, Zayid Hamad, the head of the Al Kitab wal-Sunnah Association in Jordan, which deals with providing relief to nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees, said that he doesn't have official information on refugees being prevented from crossing the border. Yet, he explained that the number of Syrians in Jordan has reached almost a million amid a lack of supplies and international aid. He said, “We in no way support closing the border, but the international community must assume its responsibilities.”

The border villages in Daraa province, particularly those which were liberated weeks ago, have witnessed huge displacement from other Syrian cities. The displaced arrive daily to the villages of Naseeb, Tell Shihab and Heit, located near the Jordanian border. Last month, Jordan closed nearly 45 border crossing points linking the country to its northern neighbor for security reasons. Prior to this recent decision, Jordan had received an average of nearly 1,500 refugees per day.

Jordanian officials denied that there had been decisions issued to close some border crossing points. Anmar Hmud, a government spokesman for Syrian refugee affairs, told Al-Hayat that his country “did not close the door on anyone. On June 8 we received nearly 179 Syrians, and 76 on June 9.”

On the decrease in the number of refugees, he said: “We are not the ones to ask about that. Our job is only to receive [refugees].” Government employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Hayat that the government took an undeclared decision to close some illegal crossing points to control the influx of refugees, which Jordan can no longer afford. They stressed that their country seeks to limit the daily entry of refugees without closing all border points, in order to avoid any potential confrontation with international institutions.

One of these employees said that he does not know whether or not Amman will insist on this step until the end. Yet, he felt that it shows that the kingdom, which lacks resources and relies on foreign aid, is unable to absorb additional displaced people.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a few days ago that the growing suffering [experienced by] refugees stresses the need to intensify support in Syria by establishing humanitarian corridors to reduce the pressure on the kingdom.

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