The 75,000 Syrian refugees trapped on Jordan’s border

Jason Cone writes: For millions of Syrian civilians trapped for five years by a relentless war, mere lifesaving aid, let alone refuge, is out of reach. But for the 75,000 displaced people caught on Jordan’s desert frontier with Syria, salvation is only yards away. Unlike many of their fellow citizens, they can be saved. So why have they been effectively abandoned?

They are assembled in a kind of buffer zone on an inhospitable strip of land, much of it within Jordanian territory, just north of the official Jordanian border. But that border is closed, which prevents aid from reaching these desperate refugees and at the same time prevents them from seeking safety. If they move, they risk being pushed back into Syria or perishing in the harsh desert. Both options are morally intolerable and completely avoidable.

The refugees have amassed in makeshift camps in an area known as the berm, so named for its distinctive raised barrier of sand, which marks a mileslong no man’s land between Syria and Jordan. Military bases, checkpoints and patrols dot the area, along with various Syrian armed groups, some of whom mix among the refugees.

Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, the area around the berm has served as an entry point to safety in Jordan from the unremitting violence in Syria. But on June 21, Jordan closed its northern border after a car bombing that day at a nearby Jordanian military base.

For the last seven weeks, relief agencies based in Jordan have not been able to get to the berm. Adequate food, water and medical supplies are not reaching the refugees, just as summer temperatures soar. Rodents roam the sprawling settlement, which lacks proper latrines and shelter. Dust storms regularly rip apart makeshift tents.

With the border closed, a critical lifeline has been cut, threatening death by starvation, illness, heat stroke or unattended medical complications. While some water is provided by a rudimentary pipeline, it’s unclear how many refugees have access to it. And it’s not known if an ad hoc delivery of food last week, dropped by crane over the berm, reached all those in need.

What is clear is that no medical aid is getting through. Just this week, Doctors Without Borders teams in Jordan received reports from United Nations personnel that pregnant women at the berm had died in labor.

According to the United Nations, four out of five of the refugees at the berm are women or children. Even before the border closing, medical assessments conducted by Doctors Without Borders revealed alarming medical needs. Children suffered from diarrhea and malnutrition. Hundreds of pregnant women lacked adequate obstetric care. Many people were afflicted with respiratory illnesses and skin infections because of the harsh living conditions. [Continue reading…]

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