Over the past five years, Jordan has become one of the biggest recipients of refugees fleeing its war-torn neighbor, Syria. Almost 700,000 Syrians have been registered as refugees in the country, which has a population of just 6.5 million. Those are just the ones who have registered; Jordanian officials say the real number is far over 1 million.
But Jordan’s hospitality may have hit a limit.
In the past year, as the trickle of new refugees entering the country slowed to a crawl, thousands of Syrian refugees have become trapped in an isolated no man’s land between Syria and Jordan known as “the berm.” Current estimates suggest more than 75,000 people are stuck in this area, but Jordanian authorities refused to allow access to the site for journalists and only limited access for aid groups.
A report from Amnesty International published Wednesday evening shows just how dire the situation on the berm has become. Using information from satellite images, video footage and a number of first-person accounts, Amnesty was able to show not only a dramatic growth in the size of the settlement at the border, but also what may be evidence of death and disease at the site.
The satellite imagery appears to show a dramatic growth in shelters at Rukban, one of two border crossings between Syria and Jordan, over the past year. While there were just 363 shelters at the site one year ago by Amnesty’s count, by July 2016 there were 6,563. The most recent imagery released by Amnesty shows 8,295 shelters in September 2016.
A growing population that is increasingly isolated from food and medical treatment is creating serious health problems, the report noted.
Sources told Amnesty researchers that poor hygiene and sanitation problems at Rukban had led to an outbreak of hepatitis that had killed at least 10 refugees, many of whom were children, since the beginning of June. Aid workers also say that there have been nine childbirth-related deaths since June 21.
Video footage released by Amnesty appears to show graves and burial mounds. The organization also pointed to two separate sites in satellite images that look to be makeshift grave sites at the Rukban crossing. Amnesty said that it was not possible to get a fuller picture of a death toll at the site because of continuing issues with access.