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Trapped: Syria-Jordan Berm

10 Nov 2016

As of 24 October an estimated 80,000 people fleeing Islamic State in Syria were trapped in no-man’s land at the closed Jordanian border called ‘The Berm’. 

  • 4.8 m refugees have fled Syria
  • 6.5 m people internally displaced
  • 15 MSF medical facilities bombed this year

Meanwhile, on Monday 19 September, the UN General Assembly brought together all UN member states to work on a more “coordinated and humane approach” to large movements of refugees and migrants. They adopted the New York Declaration, committing to providing “greater assistance and protection to migrants and refugees” and committed to a two year process of negotiations to adopt global compacts leading to a comprehensive refugee response.  They acknowledged “a shared responsibility to manage large movements of refugees and migrants in a humane, sensitive, and compassionate and people centred manner.”

But two years is not soon enough for the millions fleeing war, persecution and hunger worldwide; who are building up at border camps and in no-man’s land. Two years is not soon enough for the 80,000 people trapped without access to supplies in the make-shift camp at ‘the Berm’. The UN estimates that four out of five refugees in the Berm are women and children. 

The situation at the Jordanian Berm has been worsening for months. Families fleeing Islamic State but also threatened by Government of Syria security forces have found their way to the border crossing in the hope of protection. But once they arrive, they find themselves stranded in the desert, with insufficient access to water, almost no access to food and still vulnerable to violence from Syria.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Jordan has allowed almost 1.4 million Syrians to cross its border and now has over 630,000 Syrian refugees living inside the country – approximately 10 per cent of the country’s population. The equivalent would be Australia taking in two and a half million refugees over the last five years. Jordan has welcomed people escaping wars on its borders for decades and has a million Syrians already living there in addition to the refugees who have arrived since 2011.

But for those attempting to get into Jordan this year, the situation has become more difficult. Only a few hundred refugees have been admitted, and only after extensive security checks. And the border has been shut on the residents of the unofficial camp since June, when an Islamic State suicide bomb attack killed six Jordanian military. The UN was last able to deliver 650 tonnes of provisions to the refugees on 4 August—enough supplies for one month only— but only by dropping them from the Jordan side by crane, as the border is still sealed. The desperate population has now been without supplies since then, sheltering in makeshift tents in temperatures of up to 50°C, unable to move forwards into Jordan, or to go back.

The King of Jordan as pushed back at diplomatic pressure for Jordan to admit the refugees telling the BBC “If you are going to take the higher moral ground on this issue, we’ll get them all to an airbase and we’re more than happy to relocate them to your country”. *

Even before the border closed, when MSF had some access to the camp, there were worrying signs of malnutrition amongst the huge population of children who are stranded there. Children suffered from diarrhoea and hundreds of pregnant women lacked adequate obstetric care. MSF has called for urgent international support to save lives through sharing the burden of protection of those fleeing Syria.

Families wishing to flee the conflict in Syria are caught between closed borders and active front lines. The 75,000 trapped in no-man’s land at the Jordanian Berm join the estimated 100,000 trapped at the Turkish border at Azaz. Resumption of emergency aid is urgently needed and a long term solution must be found.  Resettlement options are urgently needed and while some states, including Australia, made pledges at the New York summit to increase humanitarian assistance and to maintain resettlement commitments, the gap between available places and desperate people in need of help, grows daily. Less than one percent of the 14.4 million refugees of concern to the UN are put forward to resettlement countries for consideration each year. In September 2015, Australia pledged to resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria in addition to its existing humanitarian intake. The Prime Minister announced on 4 November 2016 that half this number had been resettled so far.

As the war rages on and the humanitarian situation continues to decline inside Syria, millions remain displaced and in danger while they wait for the world to meet its humanitarian obligation to offer safe pathways to protection and resettlement.