On June 19th, the Syrian Army, supported by Russia, began an offensive on the South-Western province Daraa. The offensive undermined a de-escalation agreement, negotiated in July 2017, between the US, Russia, and Jordan which kept the peace in the region for a year. Despite attempts at negotiating with rebel groups, many refused to agree to Russia’s “humiliating” terms of surrender, which required rebel groups to give up their heavy artillery and munitions to the Syrian government according to Al-Jazeera. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report that at least 270,000 Syrians fled their homes from Daraa and are now at the borders of Israel and Jordan, who refuse to accept them. According to CNN, both Israel and Jordan are providing aid to the refugees, but Israel will not accept them for national security concerns and Jordan will not accept them because they are “at capacity” of refugees since they have already taken in 1.3 million Syrian refugees. Representatives from the United Nations have claimed that the humanitarian crisis following the Daraa Offensive will be as bad as the sieges of Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta combined.
Amnesty International has requested that Jordan open its borders to those fleeing Syria, especially the sick or injured. Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director stated, “Daraa residents are effectively trapped—many of those who are displaced are living in makeshift tents in the searing heat with insufficient food, water or medical care, and with the constant fear of being exposed to attacks at any given point. Jordan’s border is their only gateway to safety.” Following a statement to the Security Council from Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, the US deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen dismissed claims from Russia that they were trying to de-escalate the conflict, and instead blamed Russian aggression for the mounted attack. Cohen said, “Once again, Russia is justifying a military offensive by the Assad regime by saying that more than half the de-escalation zone is controlled by terrorists. That is just not true. The predominant armed opposition groups operating in the de-escalation zone belong to the moderate Free Syrian Army.” The Norwegian Refugee Council has encouraged Jordan to take in the refugees at their border and claim that they, as well as other aid agencies, are ready to support Jordan to potentially settle Syrian’s in the Azraq camp, which accept 80,000 more people.
The international community has put too much pressure on the Kingdom of Jordan on the various refugee crises from the latter half of the 20th century until today. Although Jordan ought to open its borders for temporary asylum, the country has supported generations of refugees since the al-Nakba, also known as Israeli Independence. Regional leaders, such as Saudi Arabia, and world powers need to step up to work with the mass of refugees and displaced people, especially considering the number of Syrian refugees is only going to increase as the Daraa Offensive continues.
The Syrian Civil War began following the 2011 Arab Spring protests that occurred throughout the regions. According to the UNHCR, since 2011 6.3 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees and an additional 6.2 million are internally displaced. For the past 7-years, Syrians have lived through constant fear and threat of attack from a variety of issues such as chemical weapon attacks, attacks from various terrorist organizations, barrages of bombings from the Assad government, and massive offensives that drive people from their homes. As Assad’s government continues to push out the rebel groups, civilians face an ever-increasing humanitarian crisis.
The Syrian Civil War has resulted in catastrophe after catastrophe since 2011. A once prosperous country and cultural hub, Syria has virtually been flattened from the intensity of the war and civilians have been stripped of a stable and safe life. The international community has not responded well to the blowback from the war, and if they continue to be complacent in their actions the casualty toll will continue to rise.