A tent hospital run by Jordan offers hope to Syrians fleeing war

Jordan, which has shut its borders to Syrians, has set up hospital on border to treat people injured by Deraa fighting.

Deraa crisis, Jordan-Syria border [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]
Jordan has set up a makeshift field hospital in the buffer zone near the Jordan-Syria border to treat Syrians [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Jaber crossing, Jordan – Thousands of people fleeing an onslaught by Syrian and Russian forces in southern Syria have massed behind concrete slabs along the border with Jordan.

Already hosting more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees, Jordan has shut its northern border to desperate Syrians wanting to cross over for safety.

But in a humanitarian gesture, Jordan’s army set up a makeshift field hospital over a week ago on about 100 square meters of the buffer zone near the Jaber border crossing to receive injured civilians affected by the offensive in Syria’s southern Deraa province.

Operating out of seven tents, the field hospital has treated hundreds of cases over the past few days before sending them back to their makeshift tent homes on the Syrian side, according to military doctors.

Khadija Mohamed, 24, says entering the buffer zone has been a temporary relief from the horrors she has faced on the other side of the border.

Just today, we treated 350 people in these tents

by Salem Zawahreh, head of the field hospital

“We ran for our lives from the strikes. But there is limited food and water along the border and we are struggling every day,” said Mohamed, who came to the field hospital to treat her three-year-old daughter, Fatima, for a leg injury.

Like many others trapped by the Syrian offensive on rebel-held areas of Deraa, Mohamed wishes to enter Jordan.

Injured Syrians receiving treatment at the border [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]
Injured Syrians receiving treatment at the border [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

“My husband died in the war. I have five children and the rest of my family is in Jordan,” said Mohamed.

“It feels safe here. I want to stay and find the safety I can’t find in Deraa,” she added.

Since the onset of the government-led push to retake rebel-held areas in southern Syria on June 19, more than 320,000 Syrians have been displaced from their homes.

About 60,000 of them are gathered at the border crossing with Jordan, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.

Inside the buffer zone

Aside from the passing every few minutes of military vehicles and a few ambulances into the buffer zone, the Jordanian side of the border is empty and quiet.

But past the border gates, supervised by Jordanian soldiers who allow only authorised personnel into the buffer zone, the effects of the war are very visible.

The makeshift hospital, which is equipped with first aid and surgical kits mainly provided by Jordan’s government and can only cater for minor surgical procedures, is teeming with activity.

It feels safe here. I want to stay and find the safety I can't find in Deraa

by Khadija Mohamed, a displaced Syrian

“Just today, we treated 350 people in these tents,” Salem Zawahreh, head of the field hospital, told Al Jazeera. “We sent another 28 cases for treatment in hospitals inside Jordan.”

According to Zawahreh, the field hospital has treated about 1,200 people over the past week. Another 93 patients suffering severe injuries – mostly amputations – have been sent to specialised hospitals in the north of Jordan.

Doctors working at the field hospital say the cases they treat range from dehydration caused by the summer heat to minor injuries sustained during the fighting.

“We sympathise with them [Syrians] and wish to carry out our duty towards them,” said a military doctor, who did not wish to be named.

‘Will they let us in?’

Despite feeling grateful to Amman for providing her treatment, Fatma Diab, an elderly woman from Maaraba, a town that lies west of Bosra al-Sham, told Al Jazeera that she wished she didn’t have to go back. 

“I’m here [in the buffer zone] to get my medication. I wish they would let us in [to Jordan].”

Describing the situation beyond the fence as terrifying, Esraa al-Amer, a 22-year-old mother of two, said that bombs and air raids continue to fall upon them “as if it were the day of judgement”.

We can feel their pain and will provide them all the support we can

by Ziad, a Jordanian national

“We left everything and ran to the borders. But even there, Russian air strikes target us,” said Amer as she covered her three-year-old son Rabie’s face with a bright yellow scarf to keep the sun out of his eyes.

Amer now lives in a windowless room along the border on the Syrian side and struggles to find drinking water and food.

Human rights organisations have urged Jordan to open its borders and called on Israel, where other displaced Syrians have been heading, to do the same along the occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian army seeks to drive southwards through the area immediately east of Deraa city, where rebel territory narrows to a thin corridor along the Jordanian border. This would split the territory in two.

With no sign of intervention yet by the international community, government forces seem set for another big victory in the eight-year-old war after crushing the last remaining rebel bastions in Aleppo in the north and Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

Meanwhile, rebels and Russia resumed talks to reach an agreement on Friday in Bosra al-Sham, where week-long meetings with Russian officers have been taking place, said Ibrahim Jabawi, an opposition spokesman.

Jordanians affected

On the Jordanian side of the border, an ostensible calm was disrupted by the sound of intermittent air raids and explosions on the Syrian side.

As dark clouds of smoke rose above rooftops and an industrial zone in the rebel-held area in Deraa province, residents in the Jordanian border town of Jaber feared the war might spill onto their side. The ferocity of bombings and thuds of artillery fires have left them sleepless.

“For three days, the situation has been escalating. My one-year-old child has been unable to sleep from the sound of the strikes,” said Ziad, a 27-year-old father from Jaber.

“I am worried that the war will reach us and that we’ll find air strikes upon us soon,” he added.

Despite his fears, Ziad believes Jordanians should support their Syrian brothers.

“We can feel their pain and will provide them all the support we can.”

Source: Al Jazeera