The number of Syrian refugees stranded on the border waiting for permission to enter Jordan has risen to 20,000, according to a new report by the Associated Press. The head of the U.N. relief agency estimated that approximately 4,000 to 5,000 are arriving every month.
In recent months, only a few dozen refugees have been allowed to enter the country each day, and then only after months stranded in the remote desert outpost on the Syrian-Jordanian border. Refugee numbers have already increased by about 4,000 since December, according to The Guardian, including women and children. Aid agencies report that many of them have spent months living in deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
Italian news agency ANSAmed quoted the King Abdullah of Jordan as saying that the Islamic State (ISIS) has killed over 100,000 Muslims in the past two years, that a “war within Islam” is underway and calling for a united front against terrorism.
Despite the calls for unity, movement towards taking in people from Syria has been slowed, and screening practices are strict. The Associated Press characterized the situation, in which Jordan claims its policies are necessary to safeguard the economy of the country and security of its citizens.
“Jordanian authorities have cited security concerns for the bottle neck, saying many refugees come from areas controlled by the Islamic State group and need to undergo strict vetting. International aid officials have urged Jordan to speed up the process and move refugees quickly to the U.N.-run Azraq refugee camp which is still more than half empty and could house thousands of newcomers.”
The U.N. claims that, while it understands Jordan’s security concerns, it will be continuing to work with local officials to speed up the vetting process. Andrew Harper, the chief of the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan, is working with local officials to try to ensure the most basic necessities are provided to refugees, which is a severe logistics challenge given that the nearest town is more than 90 miles away.
“During the first two years of the Syrian conflict, 45 crossing points were open along the 378-kilometre frontier. There are now only two open. The UNHCR saying they are located in rocky desert areas, with no water, shade or vegetation.”
Syrians currently make up the largest group of foreigners in the Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan says their most recent census counted 1.265 million Syrians in the country, roughly half of which are refugees. The others arrived before the outbreak of the war, frequently looking for employment. The United Nations UNHCR has registered 635,000 Syrian refugees in the kingdom since the civil war in Syria began almost five years ago in 2011.
The Syrian Civil War has created millions of homeless Syrians and caused over four million to leave their homeland, many of them going to countries like Jordan. The Guardian repeated Jordanian claims of an overburdened economy as one problem in dealing with refugees. As of now, most refugees are not legally allowed to work in countries like Jordan and Lebanon with high domestic unemployment.
“The kingdom has repeatedly said that the influx of refugees is a burden that has strained its already poor resources in water and electricity and urged more help from the international community.”
The census figures were released ahead of next week’s Syrian aid conference in London, where according to U.S. News, Jordan is expected to seek $9 billion in aid. Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour already linked the Syrian refugee crisis with appeals for more international economic aid and access to European markets.
Jordan is one of the West’s main strategic allies in the Middle East and is part of the American-led international coalition against ISIS that has been bombing targets in Syria and Iraq since September 2014.
[Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]