Doctors Without Borders reports Syrians trapped without aid face starvation

Tens of thousands of Syrians stranded on the Jordanian border face starvation and dehydration, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said Thursday, calling for an immediate resumption of aid deliveries that were halted after Jordan sealed the border following a suicide attack.

The international community must eventually relocate the more than 60,000 Syrians trapped in the remote desert near the border to safe countries, said the group, adding that Jordan cannot be expected to shoulder the responsibility alone. Abandoning displaced Syrians in the border area or sending them back to war-ravaged Syria are unacceptable options, the group said.

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"We see this as a collective responsibility and as a consequence we also see this as a collective failure of the international community to do its duty," said Benoit De Gryse, operations manager at the group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF.

Jordan sealed the border area, known as the berm because of an earthen mound marking the frontier, after a June 21 suicide attack. The car bomb, claimed by the extremist group Islamic State, killed seven Jordanian troops and wounded 13.

Jordan signaled it would not lift the closure.

"The security of our country and Jordanians is the government's top priority," said government spokesman Mohammed Momani. "Therefore, the border remains a close military area."

He said the refugees at the berm are an international problem, but that Jordan is willing to help.

De Gryse said the situation at the berm is very critical and "getting worse day by day," with people currently receiving only an average of about 1.5 liters of water per person per day — far below the required amount.

About half of those stranded in the desert are children, he said.

"The people live in an environment where the temperature currently rises to 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit)," he said. "There are sand storms, there is no vegetation to provide shelter. The tents are often makeshift or extremely flimsy, offering no protection from the sun and the wind."

"If this continues like it is now, we will soon see starvation, dehydration and we will be confronted with preventable deaths at the berm," he added.

Close to 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since 2011, including more than 650,000 who settled in Jordan.

Since early 2016, populations in two tent encampments on the Jordanian border have grown fourfold. The bottle neck is a result of more Syrians fleeing and stringent Jordanian security checks, amid fears that IS extremists posing as refugees will try to seek entry to Jordan.

In recent months, aid groups have started distributing food, water and bread from the Jordanian side.

From mid-May until the border closure, MSF operated clinics from the backs of trucks and said it was able to treat about 3,200 patients. This included delivering a baby in a truck and referring several critical patients to hospitals in Jordan.

About one-fourth of the children treated by MSF suffered from watery diarrhea and 200 were malnourished, the aid group said.

 

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