Jordan inundated with flood of refugees from Syria

UN racing to put up enough tents for around 2,000 refugees arriving into the northern part of Hashemite Kingdom.

By ILENE PRUSHER
August 28, 2012 22:03
3 minute read.
Syrian refugees at the Zaatari camp in Jordan

Syrian refugees at Zaatari camp in Jordan 370 (R). (photo credit: Muhammad Hamed / Reuters)

 
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With thousands of Syrians fleeing their nation’s devastating conflict to neighboring countries, Jordan is being inundated with refugees – with about 2,000 arriving in the northern part of the Hashemite Kingdom each night, a United Nations spokesperson said Tuesday.

In the past week alone, 10,200 refugees have arrived, presenting a challenge both to the Jordanian government and to aid workers trying to house people showing up, in many cases, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Crossing on foot in the dark of night, it’s rarely possible to carry much else.

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“It’s definitely a challenge and we’re really racing to put enough tents up and register everybody. We’re having to pitch tents more quickly than before, to register people and get them ration cards,” Ariane Rummery, a senior UN High Commisioner for Refugees official in Jordan, told The Jerusalem Post.

“When people come, they come with nothing. They need shelter, they need food, they need medical care, they really need just about everything,” she said.

As the war between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad intensifies, more refugees have been spilling out of Syria, usually moving by night. The greatest movement is often on nights when there is a minimum of moonlight, because brighter evenings make it harder for people to move without being seen – and Syrians trying to escape have often been shot at or shelled, UN officials say.

Jordanian officials, together with the UN, put up the Za’atri camp in the northern part of the kingdom but are finding that even more refugees than anticipated are flooding across the border.

“This crisis is beyond the resources that are being extended by us or the efforts of the UNHCR or other humanitarian bodies,” said Jordanian Minister of State for Information Samih Maaytah. “It needs an international program and response,” the cabinet minister told Reuters. In all, 214,120 Syrians have registered regionally as refugees or are awaiting registration, and about 70,000 of them are in Jordan. Others have fled to the other neighboring Arab countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, though Turkey has been hit with the biggest wave of refugees – over 74,000.

The UNHCR announced at a press conference in Geneva Tuesday that Turkey was seeing the most significant increase, but that the numbers in Jordan were expected to continue skyrocketing.

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“In Turkey the number of Syrians arriving at the border has increased dramatically,” Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UNHCR, told a news briefing.

“Compared to previous weeks, which saw around 400-500 people arriving daily, up to 5,000 people have been arriving at the borders every day over the past two weeks. In the past 24 hours over 3,000 Syrians are reported to have crossed into Turkey, with a further 7,000 expected to cross in the coming days,” Fleming said.

Added Fleming: “We do believe this could be the start of a major, a much larger influx into Jordan.”

Conditions in the camps in Jordan, the biggest of which is Za’atri, are extremely harsh. Those who are lucky enough to get a place are dealing with soaring desert temperatures, dust storms and a shortage of everything but the absolute basics.

“We’ve been trying to improve conditions in camps and control the dust by putting in fine gravel,” said Rummery, the UNHCR official in Jordan.

“The assistance is in place to provide these things but with a rapid influx like this, we need to help an unexpected number of arrivals,” she added. “We never really know on any given night how many will come. Many more thousands are waiting to cross, and they come at night.”

Jordan, which only a few years ago found itself forced to deal with a massive influx of refugees from Iraq, is again being asked to shoulder the burden that comes with housing thousands of people fleeing conflict, unsure when they’ll return.

On Monday, the Jordanian government’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation and the UN launched a $429 million aid appeal to provide health, education and other basic services, the Middle East North African Financial Network reported. The refugees’ electricity and water consumption alone is projected to cost the country $54 million, according to a MENAFN-Jordan Times report.

Jordanian officials have allowed most refugees to seek safe haven in the kingdom, but they have also begun a “filtering process,” fearing that Assad’s men will enter the country with the refugees and undermine Jordan’s security, according to a Jordanian political source.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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