Syrian crackdown prevents refugees from reaching Jordan

Syrian crackdown prevents refugees from reaching Jordan

Jordanian groups that have been providing aid for a steady stream of Syrian refugees escaping that country's unrest over the last year are suddenly facing idle time, dpa reported.

The refugees have stopped coming.

"We have not registered a single family in nearly a week," Hafeth Mufeeth, head of the Islamic Charitable Society Centre's northern branch, told dpa.

"They simply cannot cross over, legally or illegally."

The new development stems from a decision by Syrian authorities to block refugees from reaching Jordan, say activists. The move, the latest in a series of restrictions on passenger movement between the two countries, comes as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step up military operations in Syria's southern region.

Sunday marked the second day of a campaign preventing Syrian nationals from entering Jordan, which has emerged as the main destination for refugees, receiving some 78,000 Syrians since the launch of a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in March 2011.

According to activists, Syrian border officials began turning away women and families early Friday before closing the border "completely" on Saturday.

"The only way you can cross is through bribery, and even then they will not allow families to go through," said Ahmed Homsawi, a Homs resident who crossed into the kingdom on Saturday after paying border agents 500 dollars.

Government forces have boosted their military presence near the southern Daraa region, activists say, with the dispatch of 2,000 troops along the Jordanian-Syrian border. They claim to be seeking to prevent the crossing of opposition figures and military defectors.

"They are opening fire on families, women and children," Shadi Bardan of the Southern Region Coordination Committee, told dpa.

According to Bardan, some 20 civilians have been injured in the border region since the start of a crackdown he claims has deprived opposition figures and activists of their only safe haven.

"Once the secret services came to your door, Jordan was your only option to keep your family safe. Now it is not even a possibility," Bardan said from the southern city of Nasib.

The border clampdown, combined with ongoing military operations in Daraa, has forced dozens of families to camp out in makeshift tents along the southern region, activists say.

Humanitarian sources in Jordan confirmed the border crackdown, saying that the campaign has brought the daily flow of refugees into Jordan from dozens to a "standstill."

According to the Islamic Charitable Society Centre, the largest Jordanian non-governmental organization providing services for Syrian refugees, such groups across Jordan have witnessed a "dramatic" drop in new arrivals.

Sources at the Jordanian Interior Ministry confirmed a drop in Syrian arrivals, stressing that border authorities are keeping the crossings open should Syrian officials reverse the ban.

The status of Syrian refugees has become a politically sensitive issue for decisionmakers in Amman, which have delayed the opening of its first Syrian refugee camp in order to avoid worsening the already tense diplomatic ties with Damascus. Syria has previously accused Jordan of harboring army deserters and opposition figures.

Amman has followed an unannounced policy of providing a safe haven for Syrians since the start of the military crackdown in March 2011, receiving over 1,200 refugees who have crossed illegally into the country, along with some 200 army defectors.

Jordanian officials are currently preparing three refugee camps in the northern region with a 3,000-person capacity in order to face an expected "humanitarian crisis" should the violence in Syria continue.

Some 4,000 Syrians have registered with the UN Refugee Agency, a figure they claim is unrepresentative of the total number of Syrians in need of assistance in Jordan, which local charitable associations place at 30,000.

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