UN: Drop in Syrians reaching Jordan, unclear why

AP News
Posted: May 21, 2013 5:08 PM

GENEVA (AP) — U.N. officials said Tuesday that the number of Syrian refugees arriving in Jordan has suddenly fallen from an average of 2,500 a day to fewer than 20, and they are trying to quickly figure out why.

Millions of people have been displaced in Syria as the civil war there has engulfed large areas, and Jordan has become a main refuge for Syrians who choose to flee their country. U.N. officials said they are unsure what has led to the drop in the flow of refugees to Jordan this week, and because they lack staff on the Syrian side of the border they cannot observe the situation there.

"We believe there's something happening on the other side of the border, and we need to know what is going on very quickly," said Andrew Harper, the U.N. refugee agency's representative to Jordan. "It is not clear what is happening. But we think that the refugees are having trouble accessing the border area from the Syrian side of the border."

Panos Moumtzis, another top U.N. refugee official, said the agency is checking with authorities to see if "people are not being allowed to move, is it security or something else?"

A Jordanian border official said the two border posts with Syria "are open from the Jordanian side, but we don't know what is happening on the Syrian side." He said people also are still crossing over a border fence that is frequently traversed by Syrians trying to avoid the official posts on their side. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record due to military regulations.

On Wednesday, an international group known as the Friends of Syria is due to meet in Amman. The closed-door meeting among diplomats from nations that back the Syrian uprising is aimed at preparing for U.N.-hosted international talks expected to be held in Geneva next month.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria over the past two years as a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad has escalated into a civil war.

Moumtzis said the total number of people in need of assistance is now 8.3 million, representing about 38 per cent of the country's population. He said that includes some 6.8 million in need inside Syria and 1.5 million who have sought refuge in neighboring countries


Associated Press Writers Jamal Halaby in Amman and Peter James Spielmann at the United Nations contributed to this report.