A woman makes her way through the rubble of damaged buildings after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held town of Dael, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 12, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AR-RAMTHA, Jordan – The dusty Jordanian border city of ar-Ramtha, population 120,000, is a study in contrast between lavish mansions with opulent gold embossed perimeter gates and boxy concrete homes with basic amenities. Beduin live alongside the highway in UNHCR tents they scavenged from the humanitarian mission here that has assisted the 700,000 Syrian refugees who have fled five years of civil war in their shattered homeland.
“Today it is quiet, but not long ago there were rockets fired over the border and bombs,” says Muhammad, a Jordanian who owns a small wheat mill.
On February 27, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime signed a cease fire with more than 90 rebel groups that oppose his regime.
“It used to be, if we needed sugar, we’d go to Deraa, it is that close,” says Muhammad.
Today the Syrian city, 13 km. north of the border, is remote. It was in Deraa that Syria’s grinding civil war erupted on March 15, 2011.
The civilians here take the war in stride. There are no bomb shelters nearby, they say. “We pray to Mecca for our safety.” In the distance, as the Islamic call to prayer ushers in sunset, the Syrian border can be seen along some low lying hills. With the shaky cease fire in place and extremist groups like Islamic State pushed back from the border, this city has gained some breathing space.
In March, Queen Rania visited ar-Ramtha to show the government’s solidarity.
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Many of the Syrian refugees who passed through here have been moved on to the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp, 10 km. east of Mafraq, today home to some 79,000 people. Some of those who are still around work at odd jobs in construction.
“Syria is finished,” says Daoud, 34. He’s covered in dust and wood chips stick in his hair from what he says is more than 15 hours of work.
Originally from near Homs, he came to Jordan after fleeing via Lebanon to North Africa. Along with other Syrians here, they scramble to get by on 200 Jordanian dinars a month, much of which goes to rent, leaving them a pittance for food and necessities (1 JD = NIS 5.3). School for their young children costs up to 30 dinars a month and so does a visit to the hospital, which they say used to be subsidized.
“Everyone lies to us,” says Daoud’s friend Nasser, a skinny 34-year-old with a young son who hopes to get a visa to the United States. “We didn’t think this situation will continue like this as long as it has.”
The men have stopped listening to the news from Syria. They are despondent about the situation on the other side of the border. Their friends back home have died in fighting. “Only God can bring it [Syria] back.”
For Jordanians in ar-Ramtha, the war has also cost them dearly. In this region many of the Arab families come from tribes that span the border.
One man claimed that before the war there were as many as 10,000 women from Jordan married to men in Syria in this area, and Jordanian men married women from the other side. Meat used to be imported from Damascus 100 km. away, but the war has driven up prices fourfold.
The refugee influx that brought 100,000 Syrians to the nearby city of Irbid has caused rental costs to skyrocket.
Trade has evaporated.
Cities like ar-Ramtha represent the tip of the iceberg for the ongoing conflict across the border that has severely strained Jordan, a poor country already overrun with refugees from Iraq. Locals want to see more aid from the US and international community.
Syrians have given up hope of returning, and many are raising families here now, but with those families living in refugee camps and low wages, they see a bleak future.
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