Desperate Syrians wait for help in no man's land on Jordan border

A new report from Amnesty International highlights the plight of 75,000 displaced Syrians trapped near the border with Jordan who have been without humanitarian aid for months.

Amnesty International highlights plight of 75,000 trapped in area near the border with Lebanon

A satellite photo and a still from a video show a water distribution point at the Syria-Jordan border. Amnesty International says 75,000 displaced Syrians are in desperate need of aid after the border was sealed in June following a deadly truck bombing. (CNES/Airbus DS/Tribal Council of Palmyra/Amnesty International)

It is bad enough that security issues are still so acute that aid convoys meant for Syria have been idling while the ceasefire enters its third day.

True, not a single civilian death has been officially recorded in the first 48 hours. But because those convoys must travel through both rebel- and regime-controlled regions, the logistics have lethal consequences.

What makes it all worse is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insists aid be co-ordinated through Damascus. As the World Health Organization points out, the Syrian regime has a habit of not approving needed aid.

The UN agency says that in the first eight months of this year, not only did multiple aid convoys get turned away, but some of those that carried on were emptied of nearly 50 tonnes of medical supplies — antibiotics, anesthetics, burn kits — all yanked out of the trucks by the regime.

Syrians surely can't afford to lose a single syringe from the currently loaded trucks. They also need those trucks to be shifted into drive.

No man's land

But even if they do move soon and steadily, the direction they will head may worry some human rights groups. Amnesty International is trying to draw eyes toward another part of Syria, effectively, a no man's land along the border with Jordan where the war may not be as intense, but the suffering is worsening.

Amnesty International believes tens of thousands of Syrians who fled the violence and got trapped in this no man's land have been without humanitarian aid for months.

With accounts from local organizations and witnesses on the ground, Amnesty maintains in a newly released report that people are dying from easily preventable diseases because Jordan will not allow aid to enter. Jordan shut its border with Syria in June after four soldiers, a police officer and a civil defence officer were killed in a suicide car bombing in the no man's land region.

'A desperate picture'

The report quotes Amnesty's Tirana Hassan as saying, "It's a desperate picture for people trapped at the berm. Food is running out, and disease is rife."

It's an area famously hard to reach. Nonetheless, satellite images seem to help tell the story — sky-high views that for all their clinical detachment still horrify.

The images vividly show the dramatic increase since the end of last year in the number of Syrians crammed against the border.
Satellite images from December 2015 and September 2016 show the huge increase in the number of shelters at the Syria-Jordan border. (CNES/Airbus DS/Amnesty International)

Amnesty International put together a time lapse look at the rapid growth in the number of shelters. It estimates there are 75,000 people currently being sheltered in the region.

The satellite photos reveal the outline of graves in the desert next to the tents and shelters.
A satellite image and a still from video show a grave site at a displacement camp at the Syria-Jordan border. (CNES/Airbus DS/Tribal Council of Palmyra/Amnesty International)

Syrians are dying as they wait for help. And it is not entirely clear whether those who remain will get it any time soon.

Not those in that no man's land, and not those in pummelled places like east Aleppo, unless those waiting trucks finally get on the road. 

About the Author

Adrienne Arsenault

Senior Correspondent

Emmy Award-winning journalist Adrienne Arsenault co-hosts The National. Her investigative work on security has seen her cross Canada and pursue stories across the globe. Since joining CBC in 1991, her postings have included Vancouver, Washington, Jerusalem and London.