Running along the border between Syria and Jordan are two sand walls separating the two nations. For many miles, these parallel sand walls, named the Berm, form a no-man’s-land between Jordan and Syria.
As my wife and I were preparing to travel to Jordan to work with the “invisible” urban refugees who now make up 80 percent of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees, we discovered this tragic humanitarian crisis, which the U.S. media have almost completely ignored.
Because of the rise in attacks by ISIS terrorists within Jordan and along the Jordanian-Syrian border, Jordan closed its borders with Syria and Iraq this summer. The refugees cannot move forward into Jordan for safety. They cannot move back into Syria for fear of the war and death there.
Into a section of the Berm, an estimated 70,000 Syrian refugees, mainly women and children, have fled to escape the horrors of the war in their native Syria. The Guardian newspaper estimates that four out of five are women and children. Many of these refugees have literally dug holes in the ground to create an improvised shelter after fleeing with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Frequent dust storms and constant desert heat have taken their toll, and Russian planes bombed one of these settlements in July, according to The Guardian.
The conditions at the Berm are among the most extreme conditions on earth. Water is in short supply and food items have grown scarce, giving way to hunger and disease.
The New York Times revealed: “What is clear is that no medical aid is getting through. Just last week, Doctors Without Borders teams in Jordan reported from United Nations personnel that pregnant women at the berm had died in labor.”
One must be aware that Jordan is hosting nearly 1.4 million refugees, with 630,000 registered with the United Nations. This is placing a terrible strain on Jordan’s economy and social structure.
To put things into perspective, the world’s six wealthiest nations, with the United States atop the list, have taken in a mere 9 percent of these refugees. The vast majority have been taken in by less prosperous nations, including those in the Middle East such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Natalie Thurtle, the medical team leader for a charity called Medicins Sans Frontieres, said of the Syrian refugees caught in the Berm: “It’s like they don’t exist; they are stuck in purgatory. I haven’t seen them, nobody has for eight weeks. It is really easy for them to disappear from the consciousness of the international community, the Jordanian government, everybody.”
I have to wonder if these 70,000 fellow human beings were white European Christians, would the world and the U.S. politicians allow such a tragic humanitarian crisis to go unaddressed?
However, many of them are darker-skinned Muslims from Syria. Perhaps some of us think, “They are just potential rag-head terrorists, so why bother?” Besides, it is a complicated crisis, and then we must deal with the Russians.
And so, more than 70,000 of our fellow brothers and sisters continue to face not only the loss of their homes and lives in Syria, but now face the loss of hope in the Berm amid walls of sand, despair and death.
The writer lives in Princeton.