Weary and wary, Syrian refugees flood into Jordan

AFP , Wednesday 20 Feb 2013

The head of Jordanian border guards says more than 89,000 Syrian refugees, including 2,786 injured, have arrived to the country since the beginning 2013

Syrian refugees take a rest after they crossed into Jordanian territory with their families from Syria into Jordan near Mafraq February 18, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Amal stepped out of a bus loaded with Syrian refugees as it arrived at the Jordanian border, wary of the new life awaiting her and bitter at having had to leave her beloved pet parrot behind.

The teenager had fled war-hit Syria under cover of night, along with dozens of civilians, mainly women and children, escorted by fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

"I want to go home to fetch my parrot. Either I go back (home) or enter (Jordan) with my parrot," Amal told her mother before finally being persuaded to cross the border without her pet.

In what has become a daily routine, Jordanian army buses, ambulances and medics as well as water tankers were waiting at the border to receive the refugees and take them to shelters, where they were given food and medical care.

"The Syrian refugees enter Jordan through 45 crossing points along the 373-kilometre (231-mile) border," the head of Jordanian border guards, Brigadier Hussein Zayud, told a group of photographers invited on an overnight tour.

"More than 89,000 refugees, including 2,786 injured, have arrived in Jordan since the beginning of this year," he added.

Their clothes dusty and creased after fleeing with what little they could carry, the exhausted Syrians sat in the freezing cold behind sandy ditches, waiting to be transferred to the nearby Zaatari desert camp that already houses more than 80,000 people.

Refugees in the seven-square-kilometre (2.8-square-mile) camp complain of woeful living conditions and riots break out frequently.

On Monday night, a fire swept through a tent in Zaatari, killing a seven-year-old girl and injuring her father and her two brothers, triggering a riot in the compound.

"We gather the refugees in small houses in border villages before taking them in groups across to Jordan," a member of the Free Syrian Army going by the name of Abu Shafiq told AFP. "Many of them came from Syria's central and southern parts."

At one a crossing point near Jordan's Wehdeh Dam, the rebel army had to use boats to ferry the refugees after heavy rain flooded the roads.

Although Brigadier Zayud denied coordinating with the Free Syrian Army in managing the refugee influx, the rebels hailed Jordan's "great cooperation".

"We are in touch with the Jordanian border guards to secure the safe passage of the refugees and treat the injured," said Imad Abu Zreiq, another member of the rebel army.

Toting their weapons, Abu Zreiq and his comrades helped the refugees carry their meagre belongings from the homes they left behind and accompanied them until they had safely crossed the border.

"The Jordan Armed Forces has spent more than 250 million dinar ($353 million) to help shelter the Syrian refugees. We expect this figure to double because the refugees are still fleeing to Jordan," Zayud said.

Jordan says it is hosting around 380,000 Syrians, expecting their numbers to grow to 700,000 this year, while work is under way to open a second refugee camp for them.

"We are carrying out our duties to protect the Jordanian border while helping the Syrian refugees. We have foiled several infiltration attempts on both sides of the border," Zayud said.

"The Syrian (regime) army has shelled our territory in an attempt to target the refugees on more than one occasion. We responded but some of our soldiers have been wounded," he added without elaborating.

The United Nations has warned that refugee numbers in countries neighbouring Syria could reach 1.1 million within months.

According to UN figures, at least 70,000 people in the nation of almost 21 million have been killed in 23 months of Syrian conflict.

"It's a tragic situation. Battles in Damascus are raging and roads to the Lebanese border are cut off. Jordan has become the last resort for thousands of Syrians," said Abu Shafiq.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem will visit Moscow next week for talks on the near two-year conflict in his country, a top Russian diplomat said Tuesday.

Muallem will be in Moscow on February 25, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, adding that no date had yet been set for separate talks with the Syrian opposition, the RIA Novosti news agency and Interfax news agencies reported.

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