Displaced Syrians are trapped as never before. Those in the desolate encampment in Rukban, on Jordan’s remote northeastern border (known as “the berm”), are a microcosm of Syria’s stranded civilians. They face an immediate threat, as the Syrian government forces they fled advance along the border with Jordan.
Media outlets have reported that hundreds of the roughly 50,000 people there are now heading north, leaving the “no-man’s land” at the Syria-Jordan border and going back into Syria to face unknown dangers rather than to stay in a place of known suffering and increasing peril.
Since June 2016, when Jordan sealed its border with Syria, the Syrians in Rukban have been denied the right to seek asylum in Jordan and have had limited distributions of food and periodic cut-offs of water. Without any lawful authority protecting them, they have been at the dubious mercy of a Jordanian-backed militia, the Tribal Army, which appears to have controlled what little access they have to humanitarian assistance.
Throughout Syria, millions of lives are at stake. In Idlib province, in Syria’s northwestern corner abutting Turkey, 2 million Syrians—approximately half of them displaced people—are hemmed in. They were either forced from their homes into Idlib as the only available place to flee the regime of Bashar al-Assad or transferred there as part of evacuation deals between the Syrian government and local Syrian councils and opposition groups. Idlib province is considered a “de-escalation zone,” based on an agreement among some of the warring parties in Kazakhstan in May, but de-escalation is a far cry from “safe.”
Civilians there have no real assurances of safety nor any confidence that the area will not soon become a hot-war zone. In the meantime, armed groups—including Al Qaeda–linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of the province—exacerbate their misery by interfering with humanitarian aid. But what makes their situation truly dire is a barbed-wire-topped concrete wall that blocks access to Turkey, and the risk of being shot by Turkish border guards if they try to cross.
And from Lebanon an estimated 10,000 Syrian refugees and militants have returned to Syria since June, under deals negotiated primarily between Hezbollah and Syrian armed groups. Under these agreements, Syrians have returned to both Assad government–held areas such as Assal Al-Ward as well as rebel-held Idlib—none of which can be considered safe.