The plot thickens


This year, the winds have also brought with them into Jordan an influx of refugees from Syria.

Munir Atalla
10 September 2012

Palestinian refugees, previously stateless in Syria have packed their bags, yet again, and moved to Jordan.  There, they have been met with segregation and squalor, adding another dimension to an ever-deepening maze of a situation.

Each summer in Jordan, the winds shift for a two-month period known locally as “the fifty”.  Instead of the regular westerly winds, sediment from the surrounding Arabian Peninsula is brushed into the country grain by grain until car owners awaken to find their windshields caked with sandy residue.   This year, the winds have also brought with them an influx of refugees from Syria.           

Jordan is now host to about 180,000 Syrians who have fled in fear of escalating violence.  According to the BBC, that number is expected to rise to 240,000 soon, pushing the economically challenged country of Jordan far past capacity.  The UN refugee agency nearly doubled its request for aid funds in a matter of days, but even that was insufficient.  Jordan has taken in so many refugees since its inception, that it is barely managing its own population.  When the government took up the suggestion of the International Monetary Fund to announce a 10% raise in gas prices to free up more of the state budget, people took to the streets in their thousands.  From Irbid to the capital, people voiced their outrage.  Their cries were heard when King Abdullah II stepped in to block the change.

A closer examination of the people entering reveals that not all of those displaced are Syrian.  Palestinian refugees from camps in southern Syria have also made it across the border.  These double refugees are clearly being segregated from their Syrian counterparts by the Jordanian government.  The Jordanian government fears the precedent that could be set if Jordan’s borders seemed suddenly permeable.

According to Al-Hayat, Interior Minister Ghaleb Zubi said that Jordan “will not deal with Palestinians fleeing from Syria as refugees…these brothers were forced to leave due to the developments in Syria. They are refugees in other countries ... but we will deal with them as guests only.”           

Classification is extremely difficult between the people of the Levant.  So many have been moved, removed, re-moved, exiled and re-exiled that definitions fail the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent.  The reality points to the larger truth that the colonial post-Ottoman borders are senseless.  There will be neither peace nor stability as long as the jigsaw states struggle to fit their people into their borders.

For the refugees and their children, this means prolonged periods of exile and hardship.  According to the New York Times, nearly half of the refugees are younger than 12, and the ratio of females to males is disproportionately tilted towards the former.  In Zaatari, the largest and quickest growing Syrian refugee camp, two dusty playgrounds service 10,000 children.  “We're living like animals here. The dust and the sun are unbearable. Just look at these children! How do they take it?” laments Fatima, a Syrian refugee who highlighted the dismal state of the camps. 

It has been far longer than fifty days, but this summer, the winds show no signs of changing direction.

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