News / Middle East

Syrian Refugees Seek Dangerous New Routes to Safety in Jordan

Refugees who have crossed over Jordan's eastern desert border are rescued by Jordan's border forces--as many as 200-500 refugees each night.
Refugees who have crossed over Jordan's eastern desert border are rescued by Jordan's border forces--as many as 200-500 refugees each night.
Cecily Hilleary
Syrian refugees have been pouring into Jordan since 2011, most of them from southern cities of Daraa or Damascus. But U.N. officials say the latest waves of Syrian refugees are coming much further way.

And Andrew Harper, coordinator for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), says this is a sign that is deeply distressing.

“We are getting hundreds of refugees coming in new routes, like from Homs and Hama, which we have never seen before, under extremely difficult circumstances,” Harper said.

To avoid the ongoing violence in Damascus and other southwestern cities, the refugees have been traveling southeast toward the Jordan’s eastern border with Iraq. There, they park their cars and cross over the border by foot into Jordan. 

We know that we are going to be continuing to see tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Syrians coming towards Jordan...We need to be building more camps. But we don’t have the money.
At this time of year, crossing is still comfortable during the day, though that will change as the summer approaches.  At night, the refugees have only the stars to guide them. There is little water in this part of Jordan; it has to be trucked in.  There is no electricity either.

“And so to identify to the refugees when they are crossing at night where Jordan is, the armed forces are flashing their patrol lights through the darkness to the refugees, signaling that this is the way they have to come,” Harper said. “It’s almost like setting up a lighthouse beacon.”

Six, seven even eight hours later, the lucky ones are rescued by Jordanian border patrols. But they still have a long way to go before they reach the Zaatari refugee camp at Al Mafraq.
UN map of Syria showing routes into JordanUN map of Syria showing routes into Jordan
x
UN map of Syria showing routes into Jordan
UN map of Syria showing routes into Jordan

“The border guards don’t have the funds to put enough petrol in the vehicles to keep these vehicles doing the round trips to the camp and back,” Harper said.  “They don’t have four-wheel-drive buses, and the poor Jordanian armed forces only have two trucks in one post, three trucks in another post, and we’re trying to figure out, ‘How the hell do we get ready to receive thousands more people coming through this route?’”

Families, often unaccompanied women and children, are loaded into the backs of trucks to begin another trek, as long as 400 kilometers. 
  
“So you have children who have already suffered, coming across in the night in the desert, in the dust, who are then having to be put into these trucks for nine hours to get to safety, and these trucks are sort of just plowing through sand and dust, billowing around, trying to survive,” Harper said. 

Once the Jordanian patrols have dropped the refugees off at Zaatari, they turn around and head back to the eastern border to rescue still more refugees — some of them injured, most of them exhausted and frightened. There are hundreds a day and their numbers are growing.

“We know that we are going to be continuing to see tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Syrians coming towards Jordan,” says Harper, “And we need to ensure that we’ve got the necessary resources to be able to put in place an infrastructure. We need to be building more camps.  But we don’t have the money.”

  • A Jordanian soldier helping a young Syrian refugee put back up a tent blown down by the relentless wind. The UNHCR calls Jordan the "model host."
  • Jordan desert, near the far eastern border with Iraq
  • It takes refugees as many as 2-5 days after crossing Jordan's eastern border before they can be moved to the Zaatari camp, in northwestern Jordan. Jordanian Armed Forces cover all costs.
  • Syrian refugees in eastern Jordan's desert walking the plank into safety.
  • Most of the refugees coming into Jordan from the east are children. These have just been loaded on a Jordanian Border Patrol truck to be moved to safety.
  • Rasha, age 8, fled Homs in her pajamas after her house was shelled. She travelled for 12 days to reach the Jordan border.
  • 6 year-old Nisreen starting her 450 km trip to her new home as a refugee from the remote eastern Jordan-Syria border.
  • Sunset at a remote refugee reception area close to the Syria-Jordan-Iraq borders. Access is only by four-wheel drive vehicles--in good condition.
  • Of the estimated 450,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, more than 360,000 are registered or waiting registration with UNHCR, Amman.
  • 101 year-old Atfa, a Syrian refugee who passed away in the Zaatri refugee camp in Jordan. He had fled Syria only ten days earlier.

Zaatari hosts about 100,000 refugees today, but any more and it could become unmanageable. For now, says Harper, there are enough tents, food, water and health care.  There have been no serious outbreaks of disease, but that could change at any time.

Harper praises Jordan as a perfect and generous host to refugees.

“It has hosted a couple of million Palestinians. It has hosted hundreds of thousands of Iraqis," he says. "It’s now being inundated by Syrians.”

Jordan has allocated land for another refugee camp, assuming there will someday be funds to build it. But any additional refugee camps will need more water, which already is in short supply. Jordan has also been allowing Syrians to access the health system, the education system. But sadly, says Harper, that isn’t enough.

It’s up to the international community, he says, to turn “magnificent gestures of solidarity towards refugees” into something more practical.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bill Frelick from: Washington, DC
March 29, 2013 10:11 AM
While Jordan does, indeed, deserve credit for welcoming hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, UNHCR's Andrew Harper goes too far in saying Jordan is a "perfect" refugee host. Jordan has a policy of rejecting Palestinian refugees from Syria who seek asylum at its border. These Palestinians are fleeing conditions and threats that are just as life-threatening as those faced by the Syrian refugees who Jordan accepts. Please see Human Rights Watch's report on this aspect of the crisis http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/21/jordan-obama-should-press-king-asylum-seeker-pushbacks


Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs