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Heat wave slams 50,000 Syrians in desert hoping to cross into Jordan

AMMAN: More than 50,000 displaced Syrians stranded at two desert […]

16 May 2016

AMMAN: More than 50,000 displaced Syrians stranded at two desert border crossings with Jordan are facing water shortages and the risk of sunstroke after temperatures exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) over the past two days, a resident of one of the informal encampments told Syria Direct on Monday.

The internally displaced Syrians, most of whom are fleeing Islamic State (IS) rule in eastern Syria, began setting up tents at two informal border crossings with Jordan, Rukban and Hadalat, in mid-2014.

This past April, Syria Direct reported on the growing humanitarian crisis at the two sites, located 50km apart in a demilitarized zone on Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria. At the time, camp residents described “inhumane” conditions and expressed fears of spending another hot summer in the Jordanian desert after at least a half dozen elderly and sick camp residents died from the heat last year.

A truck carrying water stuck in the mud on the way to the Syrian-Jordanian border. Photo courtesy of ICRC.

An ongoing heat wave is driving temperatures “well above seasonal average” in recent days, Jordan’s official Petra News Agency reported on Sunday.

“Temperatures here have been on the rise for about a week and it’s been over 40 degrees Celsius Sunday and today,” Abu Anas, who came to the Rukban settlement with his wife and first-born son last year, told Syria Direct via WhatsApp on Monday.

“Now we have a water shortage because people need to drink more due to the heat,” said Abu Anas.

Last November, UNICEF assumed responsibility for providing potable water to the desert encampments, known as “the berm” by aid workers in reference to the sandbag wall that demarcates the settlements’ southern border.

Although UNICEF sends water trucks on a daily basis, Abu Anas said the deliveries are not enough to quench the camp residents’ thirst in the desert heat.

“People drink the water as soon as it arrives,” said the father of two, who fled IS advances on his eastern Homs village last year. “They don’t even care that it’s nearly boiling.”

Aid officials who spoke with Syria Direct said that a poor network of roads and the camps’ isolated locations are hindering efforts to provide relief, including water, to the Syrians stranded on the border.

“We are striving to ensure that refugees at the berm have adequate access to water,” an official with UNICEF told Syria Direct on Monday, acknowledging the difficulty of transporting water to the isolated encampments.

Syrians living at Rukban and Hadalat are hoping to enter Jordan and register with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Once that happens, Syrian refugees can apply for asylum in a third country—although fewer than one percent will be resettled and the process can take up to 36 months, according to the UN’s estimates.

ICRC truck carrying food-aid to displaced Syrians stranded at the berm in January. The trip takes approximately three hours, of which only one hour is on paved roads. Photo courtesy of ICRC.

In February, Jordanian monarch King Abdullah told the BBC that his country was processing the displaced Syrians at Rukban and Hadalat “as quickly as possible,” but that the vetting process required time due to security concerns. In recent weeks Jordan has admitted an estimated 300 people per day from the berm.

For the estimated 50,000 people still waiting to enter Jordan, including daily new arrivals, the combination of high temperatures, a lack of water and near constant sun exposure is making life “unlivable,” says Abu Anas.

“The temperature inside the tent is the same as outside… and several people have passed out” in recent days, he says.

“We don’t let Anas go outside because we’re afraid he’ll get sunstroke,” says Abu Anas, referring to his two-year-old son.

Despite these conditions, Abu Anas said he has no plans to return to Homs as “nowhere is safe there.”

“The situation is terrible here, but we have no better options.”

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