Amman’s Refugee Waiting Game

The Time Bomb on Jordan’s Border

Syrian refugees after crossing the border into Jordan, December 2013 Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

Abdal Salam Hameed, 52, has been stranded in Rukban, a refugee camp situated in the scorching desert at the edge of Jordan’s northeast border with Syria, since March 2016. He fled here from Homs to escape the Syrian civil war and find security for his family. But the camp he inhabits, which houses approximately 80,000 displaced Syrians over a hundred miles from the closest city, has seen only one UN food shipment since January, and is without a single professional medical facility. “The situation in Rukban is catastrophic,” he said. According to the UN, approximately 80 percent of those stranded in Rukban are women and children. A father of eight, Hameed requested permission from the Jordanian government for one of his sons to receive treatment for an ongoing heart problem, but was denied. He also lamented that without formal schooling in the camp, some of his children do not even know how to write their own names. “It’s as if we are living in the Stone Age,” he said. 

After the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, Jordan opened its doors to Syrian refugees. According to UN figures, the country has absorbed at least 659,000 Syrian refugees over the last six years, behind only Turkey and Lebanon. (The Jordanian government says the real number is around 1.4 million.) But in July 2014, Amman changed its mind. It began blocking thousands of Syrian asylum seekers from entering the country, stranding them near Rukban, in an international no-man’s land that aid officials call “the berm.” Given the close proximity to the Jordanian border, residents fled to this isolated desert camp to escape the Assad regime and Russian airstrikes.

Unlike the formal refugee camps inside Jordan, such as Za’atari or Azraq, where Jordanian forces provide security, in Rukban, no Hashemite military brigade or police force operates regularly inside the area. Partly as a result, chaos reigns. During the past year, at least eight bombs have exploded in the berm, most recently on May 16, and frequent clashes

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