Why have Syrian refugees stopped entering Jordan?
The number of Syrian refugees entering Jordan has almost ground to a halt over the last four days, with conflicting reports coming from the border as to why.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a total of 25 Syrians crossed into Jordan since Saturday — the lowest total over a four-day period since the onset of the conflict in March 2011.
A senior official denied media reports claiming that authorities have moved to close the country’s borders with Syria, stressing that Jordan continues to maintain an open-border policy.
“No official body has taken any step or measure to close the border to or prevent refugees from entering Jordan,” said Anmar Hmoud, government spokesman for Syrian refugee affairs.
“Any drop in the number of Syrians entering Jordan is due to internal security matters on the Syrian side and has no link to Jordanian policy.”
The Ramtha and Jabar crossing points, Syria’s main conduit to Jordan, remain open, Hmoud noted, while border forces remain prepared to receive refugees crossing illegally into the country.
Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative in Jordan gave a similar account, blaming the low figure of refugees on violence across the border.
“Unfortunately it seems that bombings and clashes across the border have closed all access routes to Jordan,” Harper told The Jordan Times.
“Unless we see a cease in hostilities, thousands may soon be stranded along the border,” he noted.
The UN’s reports contradict those coming from inside Syria, who say that Jordanian border forces are “turning away thousands of refugees”, according to Reuters.
Refugee and aid workers from inside Syria told the agency that all of the four unofficial crossing points used by refugees trying to escape bombardments in the southern province of Daraa have been closed for the last six days.
“The Jordanian authorities have stopped receiving refugees whatever their circumstance,” Abu Hussein Al Zubi, a Syrian aid worker, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“There are now many refugees gathering on the border trying to enter Jordan and waiting for the crossing points to open,” he added.
Regional coordinator of UNHCR, Panos Moumtzis, said that the rate of Syrian refugees entering Jordan had dropped to “almost zero”, adding: “We [UNHCR] are in discussions with the Jordanian government to make sure that people are able to cross into the country without facing any difficulty.”
This slowdown in the influx of refugees marks a dramatic drop off for Jordan, which has averaged a daily influx of some 2,500 Syrians since the beginning of the year.
Over the past week, Damascus has intensified a month-long military offensive across the southern region that has seen regime forces recapture several strategic rebel strongholds. Intense battles have been seen between regime and rebel fighters in the city of Qusair, near Homs, with Hizbollah fighters being drawn in to the conflict.
Jordanian security sources reported a rise in violence across southern Syria on Tuesday, with heavy shelling and clashes reported in the border towns of Al Shajereh, Tufs, Yargeh, Nawa, Nahaytu and Daraa.
Rebel officials say intensified bombing campaigns by regime forces have made crossing into Jordan all but “impossible”.
“Regime forces have strengthened their bombings across all of southern Syria — no one can move without being hit,” said Abu Mohammed Al Damashqi, Free Syrian Army battalion leader currently stationed in the Daraa countryside.
“The entire border is on fire.”
Syrian activists claim that Damascus’ bombing campaign has driven over 50,000 from their homes over the past month, with some 30,000 now amassed along the Jordanian-Syrian border, unable to enter the country.
Jordan has opened its borders to over 535,000 Syrians since the onset of the conflict in March 2011 — a number UN officials expect to surpass 1.2 million by the end of the year.