Jordan warns of new wave of Syrian refugees

By Mohammed Ghazal in Amman

Jordanian forces conduct a patrol near the kingdom's border with Syria. [Photo courtesy of the Jordan Armed Forces]

Jordanian forces conduct a patrol near the kingdom's border with Syria. [Photo courtesy of the Jordan Armed Forces]

As the Syrian regime and its allies press an offensive in southern Syria, Jordanian officials and experts warn of a new wave of refugees seeking to enter the kingdom from areas adjacent to the border.

Jordan is already hosting 1.3 million Syrian refugees -- a full 20% of the kingdom's population -- and cannot accommodate any more, they told Al-Mashareq.

Airstrikes and ground fighting in southern Syria have forced at least 45,000 people to flee, the UN said Tuesday (June 26th), after issuing a previous warning that renewed hostilities could put 750,000 lives at risk.

The current displacement is the largest in the area so far, with the majority fleeing from the eastern parts of Syria's Daraa province south towards the sealed border with Jordan, AFP reported.

The recent escalation by the regime and its allies in Daraa province "has ended the ceasefire agreement in southern Syria", said strategy analyst and retired Jordanian military officer Maj. Gen. Adeeb al-Sarayreh.

Most of southwest Syria is part of a de-escalation zone agreed to in July 2017 by the US, Russia and Jordan.

"Jordan is currently engaged in intensive talks with the concerned parties and the international community to maintain the de-escalation zone in southern Syria and not to further aggravate the situation," he said.

Jordan's border with Syria extends for more than 320 kilometres, he said, which will "increase the security challenges as well as expectations for large waves of refugees fleeing the bombing".

"Further efforts must be made to end the escalation, as it is in no one's interest," al-Sarayreh said.

The de-escalation zone had facilitated the entry of aid to Syrian civilians, he said, and the end of the agreement will push more refugees towards Jordan.

'We cannot accept more refugees'

Jordan has continued to take on a humanitarian role over the past few years, said Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat.

"We cannot accept more Syrian refugees as the current numbers are already very large and the pressure is high on all sectors," she told Al-Mashareq.

Jordan "is intensifying contacts to maintain the de-escalation zone", she said, noting that the kingdom is closely monitoring the developments in southern Syria in order to protect its interests and security.

The refugee crisis and regional challenges have put more pressure on the already weakened Jordan economy, economist Hossam Ayesh told Al-Mashareq.

The kingdom is facing rising debt and unemployment, coupled with a decrease in aid to refugees from donor countries, he said.

Jordan has had to shoulder a direct cost of about $10 billion to host Syrian refugees since the conflict began in 2011, Ayesh said.

That amount includes the cost of education, health, electricity, water, sanitation, the use of infrastructure and municipal services, subsidised materials and goods, transport losses, unofficial labour, security costs and other costs, he said.

"Jordan cannot handle more economic burdens and pressure on services," he added. "If new refugees from southern Syria come to the kingdom as violence and fighting escalate, the situation will become more difficult."

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