A United Nations organization dealing with refugees has said that land has been designated in Jordan to set up a camp to deal with an expected tide of refugees fleeing unrest in Syria.

Thousands of Syrians have reportedly been pouring over the border into Jordan as a defiant President Bashar Assad has ratcheted up his lethal crackdown on anti-government protesters that has killed over 3,500 as the country slides deeper into civil war.

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan is working with the Ministry of Interior to prepare a refugee camp in Mafraq north of Amman to take in the Syrians who have fled their homes.

“The area where it would be possible to receive an influx of refugees has been designated, but there hasn’t been any kind of action taken on the ground yet. No tents have been set up, but at least the land has been designated for such a contingency,”
Dana Bajali, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, told The Media Line.

Bajali said they have been providing assistance to some 200 Syrian refugee families, but that it is estimated that over 3,000 have sought sanctuary in Jordan, some legally, others illegally. Hundreds are thought to be army deserters.

“This includes urgent cash assistance, some blankets and mattresses. We also try to provide some food items to these families, kitchen sets, hygiene kits, utensils, school kits and food packages,” Bajali said, adding that most of the refugees were being housed by relatives and friends since there were close family and tribal ties on both sides of the border.

Many have come from the Syrian town of Deraa, the birthplace of the Syrian rebellion that erupted in mid-March when dozens or more youths were detained by security forces for spray painting anti-government graffiti. Since then, despite the massive presence of troops and attacks on the city’s main mosque, Deraa remains in turmoil.

But others have been coming from the area around Homs, the heart of the anti-Assad revolt, north of Damascus.

“We have noticed a steady influx of Syrians into Jordan and the number of those registered with us has increased. There is a plan to receive an influx of refugees if that happens and one of them is to set up a reception center, but that hasn’t started yet,” she added.

Another UNHCR official told the Ammon news website that the cost of the refugee camp would be about half a million dollars and that the tents would come from their stocks currently stored in warehouses in Zaraq. But it also quoted government officials as saying they are not formally cooperating with the UN organization.

Syria has periodically sealed its 380-kilometer border with Jordan since the revolt began. Last week, Syrian army defectors clashed with loyalist troops near the border along the Damascus-Amman highway and at least 40 people were reportedly killed.

Since the fighting began tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. Some 5,000 are estimated to have sought shelter in Lebanon and another 7,600 are reportedly in Turkey. Hosting the refugees and allowing Syrian opposition to organize on its territory has plunged relations between Turkey and Assad’s regime to their lowest point in years.

Syria’s 22 million people are not only feeling the pressure of growing causalities and fighting but the economic fallout. Syria has been hit by international sanctions and other measures that may cause the economy to contract by as much as 10% this year. Even those who cannot or will not leave have been sending capital out of the country.

Two rocket-propelled grenades hit a Baath ruling party building in Damascus on Sunday, residents said, the first reported attack by insurgents inside the Syrian capital. Meanwhile, the Arab League said it rebuffed a request by Syria to amend plans for a 500-strong monitoring mission after Assad disregarded a deadline to halt violent repression of protesters.

Unlike Turkey, Jordan is not allowing Syrian opposition groups in the kingdom. Still, there are tensions between the countries, particularly after King Abdullah II last week became the first Arab ruler to call for Assad to step down. Following the monarch’s statements, pro-government mobs attacked the Jordanian Embassy in Damascus.

Syria reportedly apologized to Jordan over the attack. Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency quoted Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad as apologizing for the attack on the Jordanian Embassy as well as other diplomatic missions, including the Turkish Embassy.

Last month, Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh said in a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, that the kingdom would be ready for the receiving any new numbers of refugees from Syria in the event of deterioration of the security situation there.

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