Jordan: humanitarian help as political tool

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Catherine Shakdam

Rabi' al-Awwal 20, 1437 2016-01-01

Special Reports

by Catherine Shakdam (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1437)

Jordan has joined a number of other Arabian regimes that want to exploit the Syrian refugee crisis to shamelessly advance their own political agenda.

Jordan it appears took a page out of Saudi Arabia’s playbook this December as it began wielding humanitarian assistance to score political points against both Russia and Iran — hoping as it were, to bog down both powers’ military efforts against ISIS in the Greater Levant.

Back in the summer of 2015, Riyadh set a dangerous legal precedent when its officials blackmailed UN aid agencies and NGOs into abiding by its sectarian aid rules in Yemen — thus locking entire segments of the population out of humanitarian aid to better weigh on Yemen’s resistance movement. In late November, Jordan pretty much followed suit, only this time Amman chose to play Syria’s refugee crisis to better “demonstrate” how nefarious Moscow and Tehran’s policies against ISIS have been, in contrast to Washington’s play.

But if Saudi Arabia’s move in Yemen was completely by-passed by the Western corporate-owned media and rights groups, on account of the fact that its bulging coffers can buy almost anyone’s silence, the same cannot be said of Jordan’s irresponsible positions vis-à-vis Syria’s war refugees.

Taking the lead, Sherif el-Sayed Ali, the head of Amnesty’s refugee and migrant rights slammed the Arabian state, stressing, “As the conflict in Syria continues, it is critical that Jordan, and Syria’s other neighboring countries, keep their borders open to those fleeing bloodshed or persecution.” This statement was quickly followed by Amnesty International’s claims that Jordan is in effect “fueling a humanitarian disaster” on its doorsteps by “denying entry to the refugees.”

According to aid workers on the ground an estimated 12,000 war refugees, mainly women and children, have been denied safe passage into Jordan — abandoned to their fate as winter is fast closing in. Homeless, destitute, and oftentimes direly sick, Syria’s refugees stand on the edge of a knife should they stray but a little.

Before Syria’s ever growing hardship, before the human unraveling of the Syrian society, Western powers have offered but lip-service to rationalize their inadequacy and pandemic apathy, oftentimes blaming Russia and Iran’s efforts on account not of their failures but because their successes would entail an admission of guilt.

For the sake of political argument and to ensure that their policies are never challenged in a court of public opinion, Western powers and their regional allies have played manipulations and crisis engineering in Syria. Across the media, the sound of politicians’ promises of distant fundings and humanitarian aid have intermittently broken over the litany of bombs and destructions the West’s billions manifested, offering nothing but mirages to a broken people.

For if Western powers are keen pacifists on paper, it is war they only ever invest in. And because it is weaponry and the sale thereof that allows for the spinning of those corporate wheels, it is unrest and engineered human misery that will unravel unabated the new product of Western imperialism.

But Jordan did not just close its borders. Information has surfaced that the state has begun expelling individuals, forcing entire families to return to Syria regardless of the risks such travel inherently implies. If not for the dangers posed by those Western warplanes that congest Syria’s skies, Syrians remain still at the mercy of ISIS radicals, those barbaric hordes who have long established their penchant for cruel rampages against innocent civilians, a mean to strike fear and command submission among communities.

In October 2014, aid agencies and newly arrived refugees reported that between 45–80% of asylum seekers leaving Syria were sent straight back through the Raba al-Sarhan Transit Centre in northeastern Jordan before they were able to register with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Such practices are contrary to international law and could actually be characterized as war crimes under current circumstances.

It is important to note that reliable figures on this are hard to come by. Deportations usually take place shortly after a local governor’s order, making it difficult for non-governmental agencies to track the process. Still, in the face of mounting criticism, Amman is standing its ground, its officials silent before the pain of a people besieged by war.

Amnesty International’s warning came only days after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees called on Amman to allow the refugees into the country. In a report, the rights group noted that over 10,000 civilians were stuck in Rukban and Hadalat crossing points, located in northern Jordan.

Experts have already rationalized Jordan’s decision by arguing the small kingdom welcomed its fill of refugees over the years: Palestinians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Syrians. And indeed, to some degree Jordan did after all provide sanctuary for an ever-extending stream of war refugees, offering aid and safety to nations at war.

According to UN agencies’ estimates as well as rights groups, there are about 1.4 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, notwithstanding tens of thousands of Yemenis, about a million Palestinians, and in excess of 700,000 Iraqis. Those numbers alone attest to Jordan’s generosity. So why the sudden change in policy? Why did Amman choose to tighten its immigration policies when violence has all but consumed Syria, and beyond, in the region?

While answers may lie in the need for a coordinated regional humanitarian effort, it is sadly politics or rather geopolitics that stand at the heart of Jordan’s decision. In all fairness, the Amman government should not be expected to carry the burden of wars alone. Other Middle Eastern powers too should shoulder their responsibilities vis-à-vis their brethren, if not out of a sense of solidarity, then maybe religious duty.

After all if King Salman of Saudi Arabia can claim to the title of Custodian of the two Holy Masjids, thus positioning his bloodline as the guardian of Islamic tradition, then it would be only natural to expect his government to accommodate those communities in dire need of help.

Only the Kingdom does not indulge in such distasteful activities as charity, or humanitarian aid. The Kingdom does not open its coffers unless its immediate interests are served. Needless to say that assisting Syrians in their hour of need does not figure on Bani Saud’s to-do list.

Not that the Kingdom could not handle millions of refugees; it just doesn’t want to! The same can be said of Qatar, the UAE, Turkey and other countries in the immediate neighborhood. But today’s crisis was not born from selfish policies, rather a desire to engineer a human crisis to serve a very political agenda.

In interviews with Reuters, aid workers and Jordanian officials attribute the sudden rise in refugees to Russian bombing of ISIS-controlled areas in eastern Homs, including Palmyra, and in the terror group’s Raqqa heartland. If such statements have vastly gone unnoticed for now, they fall within a narrative of blame and shame against those powers that have refused to abide by Washington’s rules, namely Russia and Iran.

Jordan has closed its borders knowing full well it would exacerbate Syria’s humanitarian crisis. By willingly engineering unrest, Western powers, and their regional allies in the Muslim East intend to blame Russia and Iran for their “nefarious” military intervention. The idea is to position both Moscow and Tehran as irresponsible powers, allowing for Washington to claim the moral highground.

Although such machination lacks finesse, it remains effective, especially when a well-thinking Western world has already been programmed to hate “dissident” capitals. We would do well however to remember why Syrians came to flee their homes and abandon their lands in the first place. It was terror, and the Western capitals’ desire to play regime change that plunged Syria into the throes of this horrific war.

As for Russia and Iran, they have entered Syria at the invitation of President Bashar al-Asad, Syria’s legitimate authority. And while some may not like al-Asad’s policies, the rule of law stipulates that such matters will forever remain in the hands of the Syrians, not foreign powers.

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