Al-Ramtha, Jordan– A week ago, Amjad Thiabat, a car mechanic in al-Ramtha, a town near Jordan’s border with Syria, shared a video on Facebook issuing an urgent call for action.
A wave of new refugees was massing at the other side of the frontier, seeking shelter from ferocious bombardment by pro-government forces in the southern Syrian province of Deraa.
They were in pressing need of everything: food, water, clothes, medicine.
“I came to this square [al-Hajuj Square] and called out to the people of al-Ramtha to act,” Thiabat told Al Jazeera on Friday.
His appeal touched a nerve among Jordanians. The video was widely shared online, and contributions started pouring instantly – not only from al-Ramtha but all over Jordan.
“I drove this truck full of donations because we are one with the Syrians,” said Mohamed Shiban, a 41-year-old retired officer who came to al-Ramtha all the way from Shoubak, in the south of Jordan.
“This [the truck] is only a sample of what is yet to come from the southern cities in support of Syrians across the border,” he added.
‘Open the borders’
Around 330,000 people have been forced from their homes in southern Syria since pro-government forces, backed by Russian air power, began their military offensive on June 19.
At least 60,000 of the displaced have gathered along the Jordanian border, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Many of them have been left without shelter in the sweltering heat and are vulnerable to more shelling from Syrian and Russian air strikes.
Using the Arabic hashtag “open the borders”, some Jordanians have been calling on their government to reverse a decision to keep its borders with Syria shut despite the escalating situation. Jordan is already home to around 1.4 million Syrian refugees.
At the large square in al-Ramtha – a space that has been used to collect donations for Syrians since the onset of the war in 2011 – a small army of volunteers is busy sorting clothes and arranging food containers and packed water bottles into piles.
Nearby, trucks filled with humanitarian aid line the square’s perimeter, ready to depart and deliver the vital aid across the border.
Since the launch of the grassroots campaign, about 200 trucks of aid have crossed the border, organisers say.
Among the piles of donations flooding the square, the small figures of children can be seen helping out their volunteering parents.
“My sons have donated their toys and clothes,” said Mohamed Khater, a 31-year-old volunteer, as he and his six-year-old son delivered black bin bags full of donations to the site.
Many Syrians living in Jordan have also contributed to the initiative.
“For three days now, dozens of Syrians have come to help sort the donations and pack them into the trucks,” said Safaa Shihadat, a Syrian originally from Deraa who has been living in Jordan for six years.
“Our Jordanian siblings have been very responsive; the least we [Syrians] can do is help,” she added.
‘They need to let them in’
Soon after the launch of the campaign, Jordan’s government joined in and put the semi-governmental Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation (JHCO) in charge of collecting the contributions and getting them to those in need in Syria.
After being collected by volunteers in al-Ramtha, the donations are transferred to JHCO storage areas. The organisation then loads them onto Syrian trucks at the Ramtha and Jaber border crossings.
According to Amira al-Ghanem, head of the local council of al-Ramtha and a volunteer with the campaign, the trucks are escorted by the Jordanian military, which coordinates their movement across the border.
“Dozens of trucks are prepared every day and delivered to the Syrians by way of the Jordanian military,” said Ghanem.
Once in Syria, the aid is handed over to locals, who then distribute it to the displaced persons.
Jumana Ghunaimat, a spokesperson for the Jordanian government, said that while most of the aid going into Syria was collected by the public, the authorities were heavily involved in coordinating the campaign.
Despite the Jordanian government’s participation in the relief efforts, the calls to open the border crossings have continued.
“I wish that the borders would open, especially for the women and children,” said Khater, adding that “they need food, water and protection.”
“They [Jordanian authorities] need to let them in,” he added.