Mafraq: Jordan opened a new refugee camp on Tuesday near the border with Syria to accommodate the growing number of people fleeing the deadly violence in the neighboring country, days after the UN refugee agency appealed to the kingdom to make more room to meet the surge in the cross-border flow.
Authorities here have been reluctant to set up refugee camps, possibly to avoid angering Syrian President Bashar Assad`s autocratic regime by showing images at his doorstep of civilians fleeing his military onslaught against them.
A separate camp, which was to host the UNHCR and the agency`s own tents, was set up months ago in the town of Ribaa Sarhan near the Syrian border, but has remained unused while Syrian refugees stayed in heavily-guarded housing compounds in several towns along the border.
Jordan`s Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah said today the new camp in the northern border town of Mafraq had to be set up because Syrian refugees could no longer be absorbed into border communities.
"We had to move quickly to make extra room for the refugees, whose numbers swelled in recent days," he told The Associated Press.
Since the uprising in Syria broke out in March 2011, Jordan has provided shelter for 140,000 Syrian refugees. Lebanon hosts about 30,000 Syrians and Turkey has taken in tens of thousands of others.
Aid workers have said that a sudden surge of 3,600 refugees last week increased pressure on Jordan, though the numbers tapered off over the weekend because of a Syrian military onslaught that hampered the movement of civilians trying to make their way to Jordan.
The Interior Ministry said as many as 1,000 refugees crossed over each day last week, four times the previous daily average of 250 people. The discrepancy in the numbers could not be immediately reconciled.
Andrew Harper, the UN refugee agency`s representative to Jordan, said that as the Mafraq camp opened, bulldozers were digging the ground in the bleak Jordanian desert at the nearby Zaatari village for a second camp.
It was not immediately clear when that camp would be finished or whether Jordan would eventually use the third camp, at Ribaa Sarhan.
Maaytah said the camp at Zaatari will be an "emergency camp," where health and other services will be provided. He also said the International Organisation for Migration will establish its own separate camps to shelter non-Syrians fleeing Syria on their way home or to third countries.