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Sharp rise in Syrians fleeing illegally to Jordan - MSF

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 14 Mar 2012 18:09 GMT
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(Official correction from FAO: fixes para 17 to make clear estimate of number of food-insecure people is from 2010 not current)

By Megan Rowling

LONDON (AlertNet) - The flow of people illegally crossing conflict-torn Syria's border into Jordan has "drastically increased" over the past two weeks to between 40 and 60 people a day, around of quarter of them in need of serious medical care, the head of mission for Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Amman has said.

Antoine Foucher told AlertNet from the Jordanian capital that the number arriving illegally had probably multiplied by 10. Most were opponents of the Syrian regime, who have been threatened for their political activities, some with bullet injuries and occasionally victims of torture, he said. They would be arrested on the Syrian side if they tried to pass through official checkpoints.

“The trend is worrying, and I would say it’s in line with the evolution of the conflict situation, to the extent that it is going down south to Deraa and that area, so of course people there are much more affected by the conflict than they were in the past,” Foucher said.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that opposition activists said government troops had raked buildings in Deraa with anti-aircraft fire to subdue its opponents.

Foucher said MSF has a medical liaison officer on the Jordanian border, documenting cases and arranging for them to be transferred to Amman for treatment. But the medical aid group is planning to send an exploratory mission to the area in the coming days to see how it can be more efficient in helping Syrians arriving there.

The Jordanian government has said some 80,000 Syrians have fled to the neighbouring kingdom over the past year, but the number of registered refugees is far lower, at only several thousand.    

Foucher stressed that the majority of patients most in need of medical help are likely to be trapped inside Syria, unable to leave and seeking treatment in clandestine facilities, which he described as "a very worrying situation".

“The worst clinical cases cannot cross borders. This is clearly an issue... It is a great frustration that we cannot access the worst cases," he said, adding that MSF has no proper access in Syria.

The humanitarian priority is for the Syrian people to be able to receive medical care and other emergency relief supplies, whoever provides it, Foucher said.

"The priority is not necessarily for the NGOs (non-government organisations) to have access; the priority is for the people to have access to proper humanitarian aid in terms of food and non-food items and access to the medical structures,” Foucher said.

“There could also be an evolution of the Syrian government in the way they restrict the access to hospitals. This is one of the big things that probably has to be negotiated at the moment,” he added.

Last month, MSF warned that the Syrian regime was conducting a campaign of unrelenting repression against people wounded in demonstrations and the medical workers trying to treat them, and called on the government to reestablish the neutrality of healthcare facilities.

PRESSURE FOR HUMANITARIAN ACCESS

U.N. officials have been trying to ramp up pressure on Damascus to allow unhindered access and time for humanitarian organisations to assess needs, and then to evacuate wounded people and deliver food and other aid supplies.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said on Monday that the Syrian government had proposed a joint, initial humanitarian assessment exercise to take place towards the end of this week, but the details remain unclear.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has said it is readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90-day emergency contingency plan to help civilians deprived of basic supplies after a year of conflict.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) issued a special alert, expressing serious concern over worsening food security in Syria, especially for vulnerable groups.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) estimated in 2010 that about 1.4 million food-insecure people were living in areas that have since become conflict hotspots, including Homs, Hama, Damascus, Deraa and Idlib, and the fear is that they are now even more at risk of hunger, the FAO noted.

The two U.N. agencies are currently running an emergency operation providing food aid and vouchers to 100,000 people in the country, it added.

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