Jordan's Syrian refugee crisis

Senior Jordanian official says international community is showing little support; flood of refugees could force border closure.

Jordan border crossing Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Majed Jaber )
Jordan border crossing Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Majed Jaber )
AMMAN – Jordanian officials fear the small kingdom's economic and political stability could be further undermined if it is flooded with even more Syrian refugees, following a recent escalation of violence in southern Syria.
"We cannot keep paying for refugees while the international community is showing little support. We need more help or pressure will mount to close the borders," a senior Jordanian government official told The Media Line.
Syrian troops have intensified their battle with rebels in the south, after losing some key positions there over the past few weeks.
With almost no control over 70 percent of southern Syria, including roads and dozens of villages near the Jordanian border, the Syrian army has deployed its artillery and air force to hit the rebels, raising concern over higher numbers of civilian victims.
The latest report of shelling came from the southern town of Dael near the Jordanian border, where rebels pushed out government forces after weeks of fighting. This key rebel victory allowed them to cement their hold on Dael, a strategic town linking the southern city of Deraa with Damascus, but rebels and local residents warned that government forces' retaliation could be ruthless.
"We are being pounded by heavy artillery and all kinds of missiles are being fired at our town," declared Abu Ali, a rebel activist from Dael, in a telephone interview with The Media Line.
"This level of bombardment is unprecedented. We feel the Syrian army wants to wipe out our town," he added.
Dael is the latest village in southern Syria to fall under rebel control, but government forces remain well entrenched on the border crossing and center of Deraa, according to rebels.
"The government is still capable of inflicting major damage on the civilian population," Abu Ali added.
Responding to reports about Syrian refugees returning home after shelling eased off towards the end of March, Abu Ali said he feared inevitable massacres of the refugees.
Jordan this week said at least 30,000 refugees went home to Syria, but Abu Ali worries it is just a matter of time before they return to Jordan and an uncertain future.
"I do not advise any refugees to return to Syria, they will face certain death. People in Dael are waiting for the bombing to stop and then plan to leave for Jordan," he added. The rebels say they are powerless to stop people from returning, which is a personal choice, but had issued warnings about doing so which were not always heeded.
Meanwhile the Jordanian government is keeping a close eye on developments along its northern border with Syria. Gunfire can be clearly heard by Jordanian residents of towns along that border, raising concern over an increase in Syrian asylum seekers.
The average number of refugees crossing the Syrian-Jordanian border per day increased from 1,000 in January to around 4,000 in March. Since the start of the year, Jordan has taken in more than 100,000 refugees, most of whom live in the Al Zaatari refugee camp. The kingdom could be home to nearly one million Syrians by the end of the year, according to United Nations estimates.
To meet the need, a second camp was opened this week 10 miles to the east of Zarqa, and is expected to accommodate up to 100,000 people, mainly women and children. The camp contains 750 mobile housing units and is provided with basic sanitation and power infrastructure, according to aid groups.
"The shape of the country is changing. Syrians have entered all aspects of life in Jordan. The economy cannot handle providing them with state subsidies," analyst Emad Alwan told The Media Line.
The government last year removed subsidies on several basic commodities and more subsidy cuts are expected, including those on bread and electricity, as the number of refugees grows.
Being the country with the highest number of Syrian refugees, and the weakest economy, resentment over the lack of international support has grown in Jordan.
The kingdom's ailing economy is being kept alive by Western aid, but more refugees could seriously threaten the country's economic and political stability, according to Jordanian analysts.
Jordanian officials angrily denounced Gulf Coast countries that have supported the rebels but failed to provide Jordan with sufficient funds to accommodate the flood of refugees.
During a recent parliament session, government loyalist MPs launched a scathing attack against Qatar and Saudi Arabia for their perceived role in supporting the rebels in Syria, and blamed the oil rich countries for the refugees' impact on Jordan's economic and political stability.
Meanwhile, right-wing Jordanian MPs called for establishing a buffer zone inside Syrian territories where displaced people could be protected under an international mandate.
Despite recent advances of rebels in key areas, however, their leaders warmed that establishing such a buffer zone would require enormous political effort since China and Russia, the Syrian government's allies, would oppose the idea.
Abu Hamza, leader of the rebels' Houran Brigades, meanwhile said the rebels would not wait for an international resolution to establish a no-fly zone in Syria.
"We have enough anti-aircraft missiles to create a no-fly zone," he told The Media Line, adding, "We only need to advance near the border and push government forces out."