JORDAN-SYRIA BORDER – (MintPress) – Fleeing with the clothes on their backs and a few treasured possessions packed in flimsy suitcases and plastic bags, the strain was clearly etched on the faces of these Syrian refugees — what they left behind and of their arduous flight to safety. Hundreds now stood in a pleasant olive […]
JORDAN-SYRIA BORDER – (MintPress) – Fleeing with the clothes on their backs and a few treasured possessions packed in flimsy suitcases and plastic bags, the strain was clearly etched on the faces of these Syrian refugees — what they left behind and of their arduous flight to safety.
Hundreds now stood in a pleasant olive grove just across the border in Jordan, huddled against the enveloping darkness and cold, uncertain of what awaits them next and for how long this temporary refuge will be home.
Intensified fighting by rebels trying to make gains in southern Syria, once in the firm grip of regime troops, has sent more and more refugees fleeing for safety to neighboring Jordan, officials say.
Many have witnessed loved ones killed, homes destroyed or have been subjected to torture, rape or other atrocities. Refugees are often guided to the crossing points by Free Syrian Army rebels and are then met by Jordanian soldiers on the other side.
“Bodies were strewn in the streets after government troops bombarded our town,” an elderly Syrian man said, referring to Daraa, the cradle of the 23-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Abu Mohammed said he had no choice but to escape his southern birthplace. He, like other Syrians, identified himself by his nickname, fearing retribution against relatives still inside the country.
There are some 45 points along the 231-mile border where most refugees cross illegally and unofficially into Jordan. For the majority who are children, women, the elderly or infirmed, the rough terrain poses numerous challenges.
Ibrahim, a 12-year-old boy from Khirbet Ghazali, said he, his mother and three siblings walked from their village most of the way to one of the crossings near the Yarmouk River, the southern boundary of the Golan Heights. The plateau rises to some 1,300 feet.
“We were really frightened traveling through the valley because it’s so imposing and steep,” he said of the majestic ridges and gorges cut through by the river.
“Escaping to the border was bad enough, but we were scared to death having to climb the valley,” said the youngster, who wore a brown sweatshirt.
He cursed Assad. “I pray that God never looks at Bashar and makes his children orphans,” he said, using an Arabic expression, meaning that you wished someone were dead because of the harm they have caused.
Not far away from Ibrahim and his family stood a 22-year-old woman, identified as Um Rami, cradling a tiny baby in her arms.
“I cried all the way here from Daraa,” said the slender woman, dressed in a long black cloak.
“He is my only child and I feared we would die. That’s why we escaped here,” she said, tightly holding the infant.
“But I had no idea that it would take us five hours to come and the way would be so treacherous,” Um Rami said of the mountainous terrain near the Golan Heights.
A small tunnel could be seen across the river, cut into the greyish-brown ridge on the Syrian side of the border. Rebels with the Free Syrian Army, who appeared as miniature figures on motorcycles, drove through it and along a road transporting vulnerable refugees, including the infirmed.
On the opposite side of the river, other refugees were viewed slowly walking along a paved, curved road spiraling upward on Jordanian portion of the range. Jordanian border patrols transported the displaced women and children by trucks and buses to the olive grove, as an initial way station.
Other crossing points are found along agricultural fields dotting the Hauran Plain, straddling both sides of the border, and are marked only by a broken metal and barbed wire barriers, and Jordanian sentry towers.
Army buses, trucks, medics and ambulances wait daily to receive refugees arriving at the Jordanian border. Afterward, the refugees are taken to temporary shelters where they are registered, given food and medical care before heading onward to Zaatari camp, some 50 miles northeast of the capital, Amman.
Brigadier Hussein Zayoud, who heads Jordan’s border patrol, said that larger numbers have been pouring across the border recently. More than 89,000 refugees, including 2,786 injured alone, crossed since the start of the year. The heavy influx is topping previously figures.
Zayoud said his forces were working around the clock all along the border to assist fleeing Syrian refugees.
Many who arrive are injured and receive medical care upon entering the kingdom, he said. Nearly half (around 42 percent) are children and 36 percent are women, while 22 percent are men, he added.
Hundreds of thousands more Syrians coming into Jordan
Jordan says it currently hosts 400,000 of the 850,000 Syrians displaced in the region. U.N. officials warn that the spiraling violence could drive an additional 300,000 Syrians into Jordan before the end of June.
Zayoud said the military is simply carrying out its duties to protect the border while trying to help Syrians escaping the violence.
“We have thwarted several infiltration attempts on both sides of the border,” he added. “The Syrian government army has shelled our territory on a number of occasions trying to target the refugees. We responded, but some of our soldiers were wounded,” he said, without providing details.
Last July, a 6-year-old Syrian boy was shot and killed by Syrian regime troops as he and his family tried to cross at another point along the border. Bilal al-Lababidi became the first Syrian shot to death by his country’s border guards while attempting to escape to Jordan.
He and his family had crept across farmland at one of the border points under the cover of darkness when Syrian troops opened fire on a group of some dozen people. Survivors said the bullets whizzed around them as they fled across the field. But al-Lababidi, who had been holding his mother’s hand, broke away and ran ahead. They said that he almost made it into Jordan when he fell dead, a bullet struck his neck.
The possible perils of crossing into Jordan were underscored by another Syrian refugee, Abu Nidal, a 50-year-old farmer from near the Golan Heights, who now shelters inside the Zaatari camp. The desert facility holds more than 80,000 refugees and is expected swell even further. Authorities say that a new camp will open soon, pending funding.
Abu Nidal said the refugees could not have made it across except with the assistance of the Jordanian border patrol.
Late last month, he and 180 others, including women and children, were forced to row across territory flooded by waters from the Yarmouk River during treacherous winter rains.
“The women and children were so afraid because the small boats were rickety and the water was deep,” the thin man said, his head covered by a traditional checkered scarf to ward off the cold.
“It took us eight hours, but we finally arrived safely with the help of the young men and the Jordanian army.”