Syrian refugees say water scarce after Jordan seals border

AP News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2016 4:29 PM

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Syrian refugees stranded along the Jordanian border said Wednesday that clean water is getting scarce in their desert tent camp after the area was sealed by Jordan in response to a deadly cross-border attack.

Cellphone footage taken in the Ruqban camp showed refugees chanting, "We want water." Three Ruqban residents said by phone that people have begun drinking polluted water.

Some 64,000 Syrians live in two encampments along the border, awaiting admission to Jordan. Many have been in the camps for months and depend on daily deliveries of food and water by international aid agencies based in Jordan.

Jordan declared the area a "closed military zone" after a car bomb attack launched from the Ruqban area killed six Jordanian troops and wounded 14 at dawn Tuesday. There has been no claim of responsibility, but Jordan says it has evidence that militants, including Islamic State fighters, are present in the camps.

King Abdullah II warned after the attack that Jordan will "respond with an iron fist" to anyone harming its borders or security.

Jordan-based international aid officials confirmed Wednesday that the border area was sealed and that they couldn't send aid there. However, they gave conflicting accounts of whether any water had been delivered to the camps since the attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani could not be reached for comment.

The U.N. refugee agency said it is working with other aid groups and Jordanian authorities to get water delivered. Agency spokesman Andreas Needham in Geneva said such deliveries are a priority, but would not elaborate.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International said that a total border closure and denial of humanitarian aid "would inevitably lead to extreme hardship among those unable to find refuge and put their lives at risk."

The group said Jordan has a right to protect civilians from armed attacks, but that its security measures "must not violate its international legal obligations to provide protection and assistance to refugees who are desperately fleeing the very same type of violence."

Ahmad al-Masalmeh, a Syrian opposition activist based in the southern border province of Deraa, said that innocent people have started "paying the price of the explosion."

Conditions have long been precarious at the camp but residents say the scarcity of basic goods is becoming more acute. "Things are getting worse, not better," said a mother of three who fled the IS-controlled city of Raqqa and has been in the camp two months. "We lack water, bread. We need everything."

Most of the water that reaches the camp comes from Jordan, bread is expensive and vegetables unaffordable, she said. Some Syrians are turning a profit by selling rain water carried in petrol containers. "On top of being dirty, it tastes like petrol," said the woman's husband.

The situation is so dire, they said, that some families have decided to return to Raqqa, which many fled due to the airstrikes carried out by the U.S-led coalition and fears of an offensive approaching the city.

The refugee couple requested anonymity to keep the option of return open.

"Water is the most important thing," said the husband. "Food is secondary, we can't live without water."

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Soguel reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.