Amid ongoing battles by the regime, Russian fighter jets roaming the sky, the presence of armed Syrian groups, some of them local and regional, others extremists, a quarter of a million Syrians have fled their homes in southwestern Syria. Most of the refugees are women and children from the Daraa governate who, walking on their own two feet, made their way west to Israel or to Jordan.
Both countries, Jordan and Israel, are refusing to accept refugees in the same way Turkish authorities have decided to close off their borders to those coming in from northern Syria. Jordan has been flooded with Syrians, and has become a refuge for them since the beginning of the war, and continues to be a refuge for Iraqi asylum seekers as well. As for Israel, it is unlikely to allow anyone to enter while it constantly tries to come up with new ways to get rid of Palestinians, especially those who live in the occupied West Bank.
International law and the 1951 Refugee Convention demands that countries accept refugees. Without shelter, thousands will die of starvation and thirst in the deserts or possible explosions in the minefields buried between the borders of the three states. If abandoned, extremist organizations will most likely take advantage and recruit the children, which is what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But after several years since the Syrian crisis began and the international community’s ongoing silence about the more than five million Syrians who have been displaced abroad and the more than 10 million displaced in the country, we do not expect neighboring countries to take on more than what they already have. More refugees will surely threaten Jordan’s stability and security.
If anyone is to blame, it is those who orchestrated the recent agreement on Daraa, where they sought to stop the fighting and hand over the southern areas without considering the consequences it will have on the people, and without finding a solution to the millions who fled the war this summer.
Regional and international parties, together with international organizations, should deal with the refugee crisis differently this time. Instead of sending them across borders and to host countries like Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, they can establish shelters in Syria.
Is it possible to set up refugee camps inside Syria, with parties that practice mass murder, including the regime's own forces, ISIS and others? Whether the agreement fulfills its intended plan of ending the war completely, or it fails and the bloodshed continues, establishing shelters within Syria is the only remaining solution.
Jordan cannot and should not be forced to accept any more refugees. Israel refuses to accept them, and Turkey and Iraq have closed off their borders as well. We are facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Displacements were previously dealt with through the efforts of international organizations, who carried out great humanitarian and logistic work. Neighboring countries also dealt with the influx of refugees with as much responsibility and humanity as they could.
The current wave of refugees is unsurprising as it is a result of the new battles in Daraa which were planned for weeks, and paved the way for the regime’s forces to move to the south after the Iranian forces and militias tried to stop them. International organizations and governments could have developed preemptive solutions to the hundreds of thousands of refugees expected to flee the combat zones. However, they failed to do so, perhaps because they did not want to encourage people to leave their towns. Yet, they were left with the same problem where more than a million people are left helplessly wandering the country’s plains and mountains.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.