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Jordan’s humanitarian record is unquestionable

Jul 03,2018 - Last updated at Jul 03,2018

Jordan has been placed under mounting pressure by numerous international circles to, once again, open its northern border with Syria on humanitarian grounds for a new wave of Syrian refugees forced to escape fierce fighting. 

For obvious reasons, this time the Jordanian government made the right decision not do so. Jordan remains committed to its humanitarian duties, not just for the the one-and-a-half-million Syrian citizens who entered the country earlier seeking refuge while the war at home was raging, but for many others who, in the past three decades, have relied on Jordan as a safe haven from countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen and Libya, as well as many more from Palestine formerly.

Since its creation, Jordan’s track record attests to this.

Even with regard to the recent crisis in the southern part of neighbouring Syria, the efforts made by the Jordanian authorities have been instrumental in successfully preventing a military solution to ending the abnormal situation there. The aim was to prevent the emergence of a fresh refugee crisis whereby Jordan would be the nearest and the safest place to run to. Renewed fighting in the south, however, is causing precisely that.

The primary purpose of the “reduction of tension” agreement, which Jordan managed to reach with the major acting forces in Syria, mainly Russia and the US, was to avoid further military confrontation in the region until a political settlement of the overall crisis in Syria was reached.

But even with that agreement observed, the border situation was far too much of an anomaly for both the Syrian and Jordanian sides to want it to last indefinitely. The reduced tension may have been convenient in preventing, though temporarily, the tragic consequences the inhabitants of the region are now facing. Most unfortunately it failed to last.

Even during periods of calm, security challenges which required high-level vigilance, day and night, against terrorist and smuggling infiltrations from across the border on the Syrian side, an area outside the control of the Syrian government, kept our security forces on maximum alert at a very high cost, year after year. The impact from the required additional Jordanian security undertakings in response to the terrorist organisations’ control of huge areas adjacent to the Jordanian borders in both Syria and Iraq have resulted in massive economic implications as well as the closure of Jordanian borders with both countries. Only recently was the border with Iraq partially opened. The border with Syria remains closed. The closures have been causing enormous economic and trade obstructions contributing to the already existing economic crisis in Jordan.

Put together, the security challenge, the hosting of close to a million-and-a-half Syrian refugees, in addition to others, with only limited international help, and the closure of borders, which has not only affected business with the related countries, but also with many others as Syria was a transit hub for Jordanian trade with Turkey, Lebanon and Europe, has pushed Jordanian abilities to the limit.

For these reasons, and because of the scarcity of the means, the mere necessities for affording the newcomers with their basic needs, Jordan decided not to encourage another wave of refugees into the country, offering instead to extend every possible assistance, and to facilitate the entry of food, medicine and any other goods destined for displaced Syrians the war has pushed closer to the border.

Jordan has never reneged on its humanitarian duties, nor has it ever closed its border to anyone since the state was founded. The Jordanian people have shared the little they have with anyone without exception. The first large wave of refugees came from palestine in 1948. Nowhere had the Palestinians found a home more warmly welcoming than in Jordan. The second Palestinian wave came in 1967. The third Palestinian wave came in 1991 from the Gulf region following the first Gulf war, caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Many Lebanese citizens have chosen Jordan for a temporary stay as a result of the civil war in the seventies of the last century.

During the Gulf war in 1991-1992, Jordan received a huge wave of Iraqi refugees, close to a million. Hundreds of thousands of others, mainly not Iraqis, entered Jordan for a temporary stay before being able to transit to their original countries. At the time, the Jordanian authorities handled the crisis with unparalleled perfection. The entire government apparatus, in addition to the people, were put on high alert to secure everyone's needs, whether staying or transiting. No known incidents of poor handling were ever recorded.

Following that, and since the beginning of this century, Jordan had to welcome and secure all the needs of refugees from every direction. This is the first time Jordan has had to reconsider, not out of depleted humanity, but simply due to depleted resources. 

Let all those who have been loud in blaming Jordan for not protecting its border tell us what they themselves have done for any refugees at any time. When the number of Syrians in Jordan topped the one millionth mark, Europe was protesting strongly at being “invaded" by several thousands from wars, many of the complainants were complicit in. The war in Syria is no exception.

Like all wars, the ongoing war in southern Syria is terrible, ugly, destructive and harming more people. The question is whether Syria has the right to regain control over its territory from terrorists. If peaceful talks to convince the intruders to depart have failed, what would the alternative for the Syrian government be? Once done, it remains to be seen what the Syrian government will eventually do to address the legitimate and the genuine demands of the Syrian people.

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