After accepting more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, Jordan has begun tightening its borders, deporting still-rehabilitating patients and closing informal medical facilities, according to human rights officials.
On December 3, authorities in Jordan expelled nine Syrians who Human Rights Watch (HRW) says were "working to facilitate medical treatment" for Syrians wounded in that country's nearly four-year civil war.
The nine men worked with the Syrian War Wounded Liaison Office, one of many groups — ranging from officially titled entities to unnamed networks of friends and colleagues — that work to treat the war-wounded in Jordan. Because Jordan generally does not allow non-citizens to practice in the medical field, many displaced doctors and nurses work informally alongside activists who pair them with patients.
HRW also reported the head of Syrian War Wounded Liaison Office was arrested two days prior, on December 1.
"We've seen a change in Jordan's policy towards refugees, there's been a kind of securitization of the process," Adam Coogle, a HRW researcher based in Amman, told VICE News. "The security elements are overemphasized versus providing humanitarian access."
Coogle said that over the past several months there's been an uptick in the shuttering of health facilities and disruption of refugee networks that up until now had worked with Jordanian authorities to avoid deportations and expedite care."This is the latest example of that," he added.
'They deported three unaccompanied minors, they've deported paralyzed guys, people on stretchers.'
On September 16, Jordan expelled 12 Syrians who were patients at an unlicensed camp where they had been rehabilitating. Though the Jordanian government does, along with non-governmental organizations, offer treatment for the severely wounded, Syrians have few options for long-term care.
As of December 8, some 3,204,000 Syrians have registered as refugees with the UN and regional governments. Turkey hosts the most — more than 1,165,000 — while Lebanon has taken in 1,145,000 and Jordan 620,000. Their presence has taxed local governments and created tensions in local communities. In Jordan, Syrians now make up around 10 percent of the country's population, equivalent to over 30 million new arrivals in the United States.
The arrests in Jordan came a week after the government in Amman announced it would no longer provide free medical care for Syrian refugees. Earlier in December, the UN was forced to temporarily freeze its food voucher program for 1.7 million refugees — a vital lifeline for Syrians in Jordan, where they are not allowed work permits and cannot enter the formal economy.
While the UN has since resumed issuing vouchers, the lot of Syrians, effectively permanent residents in Jordan, is dire.
"When people are poor and dislocated, they become more vulnerable to illnesses, it makes children susceptibly to bowel disease and diarrhea," Gawain Kripke, director of Policy and Research at Oxfam America, told VICE News.
Oxfam, which works to provide sanitation systems for some 85,000 refugees in Jordan's Zaatari camp, says it has seen an increase in incidences of malnutrition — particularly worrying as the region enters the winter months.
Kripke said the international response has not been sufficiently coordinated.
"The UN World Food Program being month to month is just emblematic of how ad hoc and somewhat chaotic the process is," he said. "The UN is meant to have a key coordinating function, but usually, and in this, it's at best imperfect."
Kripke added that the global humanitarian community is overtaxed, dealing not only with Syria and Iraq's unprecedented refugee crisis, but huge displacement in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, as well as fighting in Libya and Ukraine. This week the UN said it would need $16.4 billion to assist 57.5 million people in 2015. In 2014, the UN says that donors only ponied up around half of what they asked for.
"Every year we ask our donors to do more - and they do," Valerie Amos, the UN's humanitarian chief said on Monday. "But as crises become more complex and go on longer, the gap between needs and resources grows."
After four years of housing refugees, many of whom came in the earlier years of the war — in 2012, an average of 1,000 people crossed the border every day — Jordan appears to be growing tired of its role. Many are suspicious of the refugee population, which includes some who were wounded fighting the Syrian government.
"Since the middle of 2013 they have severely restricted the flow of refugees," said Coogle.
"Refugees had been using informal entry points through the border fence, that the Jordanian government set up," he added. "In the middle of 2013 Jordan shut of all these informal crossing points in the north west."
Refugees have been forced to seek entry into Jordan at points farther east, along the arm of the country that juts out to the border with Iraq. Thousands of Syrians have been stranded in remote desert areas without access to humanitarian assistance. The UN has reported that thousands of Syrians are trapped in informal camps along the Syria-Jordan border.
Jordan has also begun expelling greater numbers of Syrians — even wounded and convalescing patients.
In October, the Syria Needs Analysis Project, a group that tracks the humanitarian plight of Syrians, found "the number of refoulements of Syrian refugees has increased in September, particularly of those with invalid documentation or who have gone to Syrian and returned back to Jordan."
Non-refoulement, the international prohibition on returning refugees to territories where their life would be in danger, is enshrined in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Jordan, however, is not a signatory.
HRW says that despite this, the Jordanian government must live up to the generally accepted norms of international law that protect refugees.
Many of the refugees are being deported to Syria's Daraa Governorate, where fighting between the Syrian government and several rebel groups — including al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra — has run unabated for more than three years.
"I'm getting more and more calls from Syrian refugees reporting arrests of refugees and after that deportation," said Coogle. "The profile of people being sent back is getting more and more troubling. They deported three unaccompanied minors, they've deported paralyzed guys, people on stretchers."
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