Dozens of Syrians waving white flags approached the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights border last Tuesday only to be turned away by the Israeli army. The displaced Syrians stopped 200 meters away from the border fence before Israeli forces told them to leave. The crowd, which included women and children, returned to the IDP encampment. The group is among thousands of Syrians who have arrived close to the Israeli border in the past month as renewed violence spreads across the southern Deraa and Queitra provinces. The United Nations state that up to 160,000 Syrians have fled close to the Golan area due to the recent violence which has resulted in the single biggest displacement of the Syrian Civil War. Israel and Jordan have given humanitarian aid to the fleeing Syrians in encampments close to the Golan border, but both states refuse to allow Syrians to cross into their territories despite the escalating violence.
The recent violence has largely been triggered by the Syrian government and Russian forces, as they attempt to retake the rebel-held territory in the South. According to Al Jazeera, a witness on the Syrian side of the frontier said that people were seeking shelter anywhere they could as the Syrian government and Russian forces draw closer to their locations near Golan.
Live Reuters TV footage shows an Israeli soldier speaking in Arabic through a loudspeaker saying: “you are on the border of the State of Israel. Go back, we don’t want to hurt you.” The soldier continued “go back before something bad happens. If you want us to be able to help you, go back,” “Get a move on.” Lama Fakih, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, upholds that both the Israeli and Jordanian governments have an obligation to not turn away fleeing asylum seekers. Fakih stated that the fleeing Syrians are “living in areas where there is intense heat without adequate shelter, without adequate humanitarian assistance, and despite the extreme humanitarian conditions and insecurity in the area, both the Israeli and the Jordanian government have persisted in not allowing these asylum seekers to try to seek refuge across the border.”
Fakih states that Israel’s response at the border falls short of what is required to ease the suffering of the asylum seekers. “Quite simply, it is inadequate and inhumane. These are individuals that are desperate for assistance. The response from the Israeli government has been to provide assistance across the border which has been inadequate. There are serious concerns for the displaced populations that remain in Syria.”
Israel’s response is upsetting as these asylum seekers are in danger from poor living conditions and the ongoing violence that is approaching closer to the encampments. Israel needs to uphold its obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, as the Israeli government have ratified this United Nations convention. Israel and its people must also not forget its own painful history of being persecuted against.
As more asylum seekers arrive at the border, it is hoped that humanitarian aid will not just be given in encampments, but that genuine asylum will be given to the fleeing Syrians.