Jordan: Authorities must allow urgent medical care for displaced Syrians in Rukban during COVID-19

A lack of basic medical care along the Syria-Jordan Rukban crossing, in the area known as ‘the berm’, is putting thousands of lives at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, Amnesty International has warned.

The organization is particularly concerned by a lack of maternal health care, which means pregnant women in need of caesarean section are being forced to travel to give birth in territory controlled by the Syrian government. These women are then prevented by Syrian security forces from returning to their families in the camp.

In early 2015, tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the conflict were trapped in the area in desperate living conditions. At the time of writing, at least 10,000 people remain there, with no access to sanitization and other materials to protect against the spread of COVID-19. The camp’s only medical centre has no doctors, a few nurses and one midwife.

Pregnant women and other patients in urgent need of care have nowhere to turn to
Lynn Maalouf

A UNICEF-run medical centre in the camp, where residents could receive essential treatment, was closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last humanitarian convoy allowed into the berm by the Syrian government dates back to September 2019.

“While the Jordanian authorities are right in seeking to protect the population living in Jordan from COVID-19, they must not put others’ lives at risk while doing so,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“The one medical centre remaining in the berm is simply not equipped for emergency care or specialized treatment. Pregnant women and other patients in urgent need of care have nowhere to turn to.

“The Jordanian authorities must allow those seeking medical treatment to access facilities in Jordan, and also allow humanitarian aid and essential services to reach the area.”

In March, Jordan announced it would not allow relief aid to pass through its territory to deliver assistance and medical equipment to the camp, citing COVID-19 concerns.

“People in the berm have been lacking food, drinkable water and medicines for more than four years, and increasingly so in the past two years. Both the Syrian and Jordanian governments must urgently ensure unfettered access to humanitarian aid,” said Lynn Maalouf.

Background

In early 2015, tens of thousands of people seeking safety from the conflict in Syria  ended up stranded in the no-man’s land known as ‘the berm’, between the Jordan and Syria border, near the Rukban and Hadalat crossings. An estimated 75 per cent of the berm’s population have returned to Syria since mid-2015, according to the UN. Amnesty International has previously documented concerns around access to humanitarian aid, including health and sanitation inside the berm.

Jordan hosts about 650,000 Syrian refugees, which amounts to 10 per cent of its population. Amnesty International continues to call on the international community to take a fair share of responsibility for supporting Syrian refugees, and alleviate the financial burden that has disproportionately fallen on neighbouring countries.

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