AMMAN - Alarmed by escalating violence in Syria, Jordanian border authorities have placed restrictions on Syrian refugees arriving through its airports and at the border shared with the restive city of Deraa.
Official sources said screening of refugees is necessary amid worries that elements loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad who are among those entering Jordan could seek to destabilize the country.
The sources said the policy in effect is to refuse entry to male individuals altogether or to order them placed in refugee camps under police watch and with restricted mobility.
“There is a concern over violence spilling over,” said one source speaking to The Media Line on the condition of anonymity. “It is difficult to say who is a refugee and who just pretends to be.”
Since former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, who heads the UN peacemaking effort in Syria, departed from the region under widespread belief that his peace plan had failed, new violence has erupted and some officials are already suggesting that it is no longer premature to describe the situation as civil war between the ruling Alawites and Sunni majority. UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said as much on Tuesday in response to a question asked in an interview with the Reuters news agency.
Attack helicopters have now been added to the arsenal that already included tanks and heavy artillery being used against the civilian populations of cities across Syria including Deraa, Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Hama. Two infamous massacres of civilians have added to the incentive for residents of battle-ground cities to flee.
The past few days has seen at least 500 people maneuver through territory strewn with landmines to cross into Jordan near the town of Ramtha, said officials and residents in nearby villages.
Once it spots and apprehends infiltrators, the army escorts them to a makeshift refugee camp for security screening and to provide them with food and shelter.
Jordan has welcomed nearly 120,000 refugees over the past 15 months, but fears more than double this number could pour into the country as sectarian violence in Syria continues to escalate.
Activists say any Syrian who leaves Jordan is no longer allowed to return, although some have refugee papers from UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees.
The government admitted this week it was putting restrictions on the entry of Syrians, but insisted it was for security reasons.
Last week, speaking at a news conference with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said that his country had the right to prevent anybody from entering the country based upon national security interests. “Lately, there have been individual cases of Syrian refugees being put to security screening when entering from the airport or across land borders, and because of a security point of view, they were not allowed to enter the country,” said Judeh, insisting humanitarian cases are not banned from crossing into the kingdom.
“They were not humanitarian cases. They are visitors, and this is the right of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with all nationalities," he said.
Meanwhile, number of those arriving through the fenced border continues to rise. Jordanian authorities are being accused of random decisions to ban Syrians from entering Jordan, with activists saying that families with children are being targeted.
One eyewitness said he saw scores of Syrian families stranded at Amman’s international airport as they waited for approval to enter the kingdom.
A refugee activist, who goes by the name Abu Abdullah, told The Media Line that Jordanian authorities have communicated to Syrian rebel leaders in Amman about an unconfirmed report that the government is planning to lift restrictions on Syrians. “We were told that border authorities will soon allow more families [to enter], but we do not know when,” he said.
The Geneva-based UN agency has registered more than 20,000 refugees and is preparing for a further influx as the security situation becomes increasingly volatile.
Sources also say the army has intensified its control over the borders amid concern of illegal crossing from the besieged city of Deraa, which is being controlled by Syrian forces during the day and by rebels at night. More than 50 towns in the Sunni-dominated southern region are battling against the Assad regime.
Activists in Syria believe the grip of Damascus on the country is faltering as the opposition Free Syrian Army gains more ground after acquiring larger weapons and as more troops defect from Assad’s army. They predict that a greater number of refugees will flee Syria in the face of an increase in revenge killings similar to the massacres that took place in Houla and Mazraat Al-Qubeir, where a total of 200 people were killed by what are believed to be groups loyal to Assad.
Meanwhile, the uprising is drawing mixed reactions from groups inside Jordan, with Islamist figures supporting the revolution while leftists -- including Baathists -- and some tribes in the north are lobbying to show support for the president.
Activists say influential businessmen with close ties to Damascus have been hiring young Jordanians to join pro-Assad protests and harass anti-Assad activists.
On Sunday, June 10, security forces had to intervene to prevent clashes between Salafists who sympathize with the revolution and scores of leftists in the northern city of Irbid.
Several Salafist leaders have voiced their support for jihad in Syria and called for more support for the Syrian revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood movement has also expressed its backing of the anti-Assad revolt, but limits its contribution to humanitarian aid through its centers around the kingdom.
Analysts say the run-in between Salafists and leftists portend bad news for Jordan amid rising concern within the security apparatus that instability could spill over into the kingdom from Syria.For more stories from The Media Line go to www.medialine.org