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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 July 2018

Jordan divided over helping Syria's latest displaced

Kingdom has already accepted 1.3m Syrians, but victims of Deraa offensive are in desperate circumstances

Internally displaced people from Syria's Deraa province sit with their belongings near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra, Syria on June 29, 2018. Alaa Al Faqir / Reuters
Internally displaced people from Syria's Deraa province sit with their belongings near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra, Syria on June 29, 2018. Alaa Al Faqir / Reuters

The plight of displaced civilians massing across the border in Syria has prompted pleas from Jordanians and aid agencies for the government to relent and allow them into Jordan.

Many of the more than 120,000 men, women and children who fled the Syrian government and Russia's offensive against rebels in southern Syria are now camped near the Jordanian border without proper shelter from the summer heat or adequate supplies of drinking water, food and medicine.

Jordan, already struggling with poverty, high unemployment and scarce water resources, has insisted it cannot shoulder the burden of more refugees on its own. There are already 1.3 million Syrians in the country, at least half of them registered as refugees.

The Jordanian government announced on Saturday night that the army had begun delivering convoys of humanitarian aid to Syrians near the border.

“We continue to provide what we can to 1.3 million [Syrians] and to support civilians in the south on their land," Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted on Friday. “We exert extensive efforts to end their suffering."

However "Jordan cannot afford the consequences of the crisis alone", he said. "The international community must shoulder its full responsibility towards Syrian refugees.”

The United Nations has warned the attack launched by President Bashar Al Assad's forces in Deraa province on June 19 could lead to a catastrophe.

The situation is made worse because the fighting has disrupted deliveries of United Nations aid from Jordan to Syria’s south-west.

Jordanians have shared photos and videos of the displaced, many of whom fled with nothing except the clothes they were wearing. With the number of displaced civilians continuing to rise, a campaign began trending on social media under the hashtag "Open the borders".

"The Syrian people who come to our borders are fleeing death and terror, they have nowhere else to go! What do we say to the terrified mothers and children? Sorry, #jordan's economy is suffering because of you! that is a lie - it is all about corruption! Ah, Humanity!" said Twitter user Asma Jahamah.

Safa' Al Jayoussi, an activist, tweeted: "Children, women and elderly are being killed on the Syrian-Jordanian Borders and the government of Jordan refusing to open the borders to them. We call our leaders to show humanity and to show mercy as we are a country of hospitality, love and peace.”

But other Jordanians disagree.

“Jordan has made enough sacrifices,” tweeted Dua’a Aladwan. "Receiving more refugees means more suffering to Jordan and Jordanians.”

Khaldun Al Qaisi, another Twitter user, said people calling for opening the border were irresponsible.

“Could you provide shelter, food, water, electricity to tens of thousands,” he asked. “Anyone calling for this does not wish his country well. He wants chaos in the country. The borders should be sealed tightly more than ever. The warring parties are responsible for those displaced.”

Aid agencies including the Norwegian Refugee Council have also called on Jordan to open the border, while civil society institutions are divided on the issue.

“Some want Jordan to allow the civilians in, especially the most vulnerable groups. Or at least to press the international community to set up camps for them near the borders and provide badly needed aid and medical help,” said Ahmed Awad, director of the Phenix Centre for Economic and Informatics Studies in Amman. “Others voiced fears that those armed among the displaced could pose a threat to Jordan’s security."

In June 2016, seven members of Jordan’s security forces were killed in an ISIS-claimed suicide attack on a border post near a Syrian refugee camp.

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Read more:

UN calls for 'immediate cessation' to military operations in southwest Syria

UN warns of catastrophe as Syria offensive uproots 120,000

UN envoy: Syria's Deraa the next Aleppo

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