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What's Behind the Drop in Syrian Refugees to Jordan?

  • Elizabeth Arrott

A Syrian refugee woman carrying her son is reflected a puddle of rain water as she stands outside her tent after heavy rain at al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the Syrian border, January 10, 2013.

A Syrian refugee woman carrying her son is reflected a puddle of rain water as she stands outside her tent after heavy rain at al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the Syrian border, January 10, 2013.

The constant flow of refugees from Syria into Jordan has slowed to a near halt in recent days, raising concerns of a yet another humanitarian crisis in the two-year conflict.

The war in Syria has turned a dusty, desolate patch of land just south of the border into what is now Jordan's fifth largest city. An average of 2,500 Syrians fled here every day, in the last few months.

Syrian Refugees by Country

Jordan: 421,547
Lebanon: 414,781
Turkey: 293,761
Iraq: 128,845
Egypt: 50,054

Source: UNHCR
But, since Sunday, according to those registering new refugees at the camp, not a single one has come. Humanitarian officials said only a handful of refugees has entered the country in the past few days.

Refugee Osama was one of the last to check in here, arriving with his family Saturday. Osama said conditions in his village near the border had deteriorated rapidly as troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad went on the offensive against rebels in the area.

He said government snipers shot at anyone trying to leave. Still, he and his relatives made the difficult journey unharmed.

But the next day, some charged, it was not just the Syrian government trying to stop the exodus, but Jordanian border guards as well. Jordanian authorities reject the accusation, saying they are not stopping anyone from coming in. There are several official crossings along the border and dozens of unofficial ones.

Retired General Fayez al-Dwairi of the King Abdullah Academy for Defense Studies said Jordan will keep the borders open, no matter what.

He said the reasons are many, including historic ties between the people of the two countries and the religious and moral imperative of helping anyone fleeing violence and death.

Jordan has been hospitable, taking in some half a million Syrians: 130,000 in Zaatari and the rest mixing in with the general population and imposing a huge strain on the nation's limited resources.

One security official suggested that burden may be behind the drop in numbers, which coincides with meetings on increasing aid to cope with the refugees. A few days into the crisis, the United Nations and the United States announced additional aid.

The cut-off has also coincided with what rebels said is a dramatic decrease in the supply of weapons and other material support that had been flowing through Jordan from rebel allies in the Gulf, raising additional questions of behind-the-scenes deals.

Although the reasons for the dramatic decrease in refugee numbers remain unclear, one thing is certain: thousands of refugees are trying to get to safety and cannot, adding another layer of misery onto an already miserable situation.
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