The closure of Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria, prompted by an Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)-linked suicide attack, has left thousands of Syrian refugees on the Jordanian side stranded and hungry in the midst of a spiraling humanitarian crisis, according to international relief workers and refugees.
“Access continues to be denied and we are concerned because these trapped people have basic needs,” said Hala Shamlawi, Jordan’s spokesperson for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), Reuters reports.
“We know the food rations will run out soon, probably in a few days’ time… This is a matter of concern,” added Dina El Kassaby, a regional spokesperson for World Food Programme (WFP).
U.S. ally Jordan made the decision to shut down the border after a suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS drove a vehicle last Tuesday from the Syrian side and rammed it into a military facility near the Rukban camp, killing seven border guards, notes Reuters.
Following the attack, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh reportedly indicated that his country’s security outweighed humanitarian concerns.
Reuters learned from aid workers that “convoys of food which normally go to the camp were being held up for a sixth day in Ruwaished, the closest town to Rukban camp, which is far from any inhabitable place.”
Only trucks carrying water had permission to pass through, noted the aid workers.
“The authorities gave no explanation for blocking aid that affects between 60,000 to 70,000 refugees, mostly women and children, who have been stranded for months in a no-man’s land at the only crossing where Jordan now receives refugees,” reports Reuters.
Since Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria in support of the country’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, the number of Syrian refugees going into Jordan has rapidly swelled, according to United Nations aid workers.
“But Jordan, which has already accepted more than 600,000 U.N.-registered Syrian refugees, fears Islamic State militants may have infiltrated the ranks of those arriving at the border,” points out Reuters. “Earlier waves of Syrian refugees had a much easier time entering Jordan but the kingdom sealed border crossings near population centers in 2013 in an attempt to stem the flow.”
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Judeh indicated that ISIS jihadists had infiltrated some 100,000 people from the border area, but denied suggestions the terrorists had penetrated refugee camps in Jordan.
Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, told American lawmakers Tuesday that as the jihadist group is pushed out Iraq and Syria, it may attempt to threaten Jordan.
“We are supporting moderate opposition fighters in this region of southern Syria … to pressure ISIL and help the defense in-depth of Jordan,” he said in his written testimony.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have urged Jordan not to take a tough security stance in response to the border attack.
“A total closure of the border and denial of humanitarian aid to the area would inevitably lead to extreme hardship among those unable to find refuge and put their lives at risk,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali of Amnesty International, Reuters reports.