As It Happens

Displaced Syrians will die if Jordan doesn't open its borders, says aid worker

An aid worker in Jordan wants her country to open its doors to Syrians who have fled to the border amid a wave of airstrikes against rebel-held towns in the southwest.

330,000 Syrians driven from their homes in the last 2 weeks amid wave of airstrikes on rebel-held towns

Displaced Syrians wait to receive treatment at a Jordanian military medical outpost near the Jordanian-Syrian border in the city of Mafraq on Wednesday. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

Aid workers are calling on Jordan to open its doors to the scores of people who have been forced to flee their homes in southwest Syria over the last two weeks.

The Syrian government's Russian-backed advance in the rebel-held areas in southern Daraa province began on June 19 and has captured wide areas and displaced an estimated 330,000 people.

As Jordanian mediators work to negotiate an end of hostilities, many of those who fled the violence have set up makeshift camps along the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Rachel Sider, the advocacy advisor for Syria with the Norwegian Refugee Council, has been in contact with refugees on the ground outside Jordan. She spoke with As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan from the capital city of Amman. 

Here is part of that conversation.

What did you think when you started to see these tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing from their homes in recent weeks?

It's been quite alarming to witness people who are on the move day and night, fleeing from one city to another with really with very little in their possession.

What stories are you hearing at the border from those people who have had to flee?

We're hearing of pregnant women that are delivering babies under the scorching sun on a single mattress within kilometres of a Jordanian hospital, yet surrounded by fences.

We're also hearing from tens of people who have been forced to flee their homes amidst intense bombardments, often passing through agricultural lands, through endless desert for days upon days before they're able to call some place safe.

An Internally displaced woman from Daraa province sits near her belongings near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra on June 29. (Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters)

Is there medical help available for those people?

People are scattered across a largely desolate desert area along the border with Jordan as well as with the Golan. Many of these places, they don't have basic services — that's plumbing, shelter, any medical facilities.

The only medical care that aid agencies are able to provide is in very short supply and in only some of the communities where people have been able to seek safety. It's certainly not enough to go around.

Jordan has has offered some support in terms of allowing some medical evacuations of the most critically war-wounded in.

That's certainly a step in the right direction, but without a lot of medical supplies and aid going into southern Syria from Jordan, it's very difficult to be able to provide even the most basic needs for medical care, to food and even clean water.

What about the journeys that these people have had to take from their homes in Daraa province to the border with Jordan? What are they telling you about that?

They're often traveling from one urban centre to another until the bombing starts again, when they are again on the move.

People tell us that they're exhausted, they're tired of traveling and they feel that there's no safe space left in southern Syria.

An Internally displaced girl from Daraa province carries a stuffed toy and holds the hand of child near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra on June 29. (Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters)

Jordan has already taken more than a million refugees and it has closed its borders to the displaced. What is your reaction to that?

We've seen over the course of several years now that Jordan has demonstrated immense generosity in hosting tens of thousands of Syrians.

And at the same time, it again needs to step forward and demonstrate civil leadership and generosity and the Jordanian hospitality that it's known for.

But it can't do that alone. And it can't be expected to fulfil this responsibility without substantial support by some of the world's wealthiest states that are also the world's largest donors to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Aid agencies, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, are present in Jordan and are planning and prepared to receive new arrivals of Syrian refugees.

There are spaces available in some of the refugee camps and stocks and supplies have been prepared to be able to accommodate for the new arrivals.

Syrian army soldiers gesture as they pose for a picture in Daraa province in this handout released on July 4. (SANA via Reuters)

But is that a fair ask of Jordan?

It might not be fair given the financial trouble that the country is facing, particularly in light of some of the recent protests that we've seen. But it's the right thing to do, and it's the action of a good neighbour.

Especially in an environment where borders in places like Europe and the United States are such wrought conversations, this is an opportunity for a country to demonstrate how dealing with neighbours and displacement really should look like.

It's also the most responsible and realistic humanitarian response at this point.

If you look at the limitations that aid agencies have faced trying to respond to great humanitarian needs in southern Syria and the troubles they faced in getting supplies in, in reaching those who are now inaccessible, it's much easier to let those people in and provide for their needs here in Jordan.

What is your biggest worry if that doesn't happen? 

We're going to see a lot of civilian deaths, which could have been prevented had they reached the safety and shelter that they needed in space that's just a few kilometres away.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.