Amid worsening conditions inside Syria, the United Nations refugee agency today expressed grave concern for nearly 12,000 people trying to flee the country who are now stranded in remote areas along the north eastern Jordanian border, and urged the Government of Jordan to allow them entry, prioritizing admission for the most vulnerable.
The population includes about 11,000 people in Rukban (about 8 kilometres to the west of the point at which the Iraq, Syria, and Jordan borders meet) and 1,000 people in Hadalat (some 90 km further west), and has been growing in recent weeks, according to the UN.
“It includes elderly people, others who are sick or wounded, children, women, and others who are vulnerable and need help, Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told the regular press briefing in Geneva.
Ms. Fleming added that the refugees are gathering near an earthen wall or 'berm' on Jordanian territory in a rocky area devoid of shade, water or vegetation and that the number of people congregating at these locations rose sharply from 4,000 to 12,000 in November, following the recent intensification of conflict in Syria.
The spokesperson added that women have had to give birth at the berm, in unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. Moreover, common medical complaints are on the rise such as respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis, and skin diseases such as scabies.
Ms. Fleming underscored that the health situation is deteriorating, with increasing signs of diarrhoea, vomiting and acute malnutrition among children and stressed that if refugees are not admitted to Jordan and substantial assistance are not provided, the lives of refugees will be at risk in the coming winter months.
“We appeal to the Government of Jordan to allow refugees stranded at the border to enter the country, prioritizing entry for the most vulnerable adults and children, including serious and emergency medical and surgical cases, pregnant women, children below six months together with their families and the severely disabled,” said Ms. Fleming, highlighting the “excellent working relationship” the UN agency shares with the Government.
At the same time, she acknowledged the serious impact of the Syria conflict on Jordan’s security and said that UNHCR recognizes the tremendous contribution of Jordan in hosting over 630,000 refugees, which has put a heavy strain on its infrastructure and economy.
Additionally, Ms. Fleming said that the Azraq camp, located about 320 kilometres from Rukban has capacity to receive additional people and added that UNHCR has provided considerable support in recent months to improve the capacity of the Ruwaished transfer facility to allow the proper screening and processing of newly arrived refugees from the Berm.
Ms. Fleming reiterated that UNHCR recognizes the legitimate security concerns of Jordan, which “can be manged through proper assessments of the circumstances of individuals.”
“We believe this can best take place, after an initial screening by the Border Guards, in the Government of Jordan/UNHCR facility at Raba’a Al Sarhan, in Mafraq governorate, where authorities and necessary security and registration equipment is present,” said Ms. Fleming.
Lastly, she said that UNHCR stands ready to upgrade the security of the registration area at Azraq camp to allow for the comprehensive screening of the entire border population there.