The Unintended Consequences of Closing and Restricting Jordan-Syria Border Crossings—by Justin Schon

Justinby Justin Schon

“In the interest of our national security, we are prepared to close the border if — God forbid — anarchy breaks out in Syria or we see an unprecedented humanitarian crisis,” Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications and Government Spokesperson Samih Maaytah said in January 2013. This statement may not seem noteworthy for one of Syria’s neighbors, but it did signal increasing concern from the Jordanian government about the growing influx of Syrian refugees. These security fears have only grown over time.

In response to civil conflict in a neighboring state, it is not uncommon for states to close their borders. Border closures are commonly seen as one method to reduce the likelihood of conflict spreading from neighboring countries. In theory, border closures should prevent weapons, supplies, armed groups, and civilians from flowing through the country. For example, Kenya has attempted to close its border with Somalia. However, just as Kenya has proven unable to stem the flows of weapons, Al Shabaab fighters, and Somali refugees, Jordan’s attempts to restrict movement across its border with Syria have achieved little success. Arguably, they have even made Jordan less safe.

Ultimately, it is not possible to completely control a border. Over 600,000 Syrians have entered Jordan since the start of Syria’s conflict in 2011, with several hundred thousand of them having arrived since Jordan began to seriously restrict entry. This seems to have begun around March 2013, when Jordan was accused of closing the crossing at Nassib. Jordan finally admitted in June 2013 that it had closed several illegal crossing points and limited the entry of refugees through other border crossings.

These restrictions did not stop the flow of refugees into Jordan. Even by early 2012, it had already become more difficult for Syrians to enter Jordan. This simply prompted many Syrians to cross illegally into Jordan. These crossings occurred along at least 45 illegal crossing points. With a 231 mile border, much of it located in harsh desert, the Jordan-Syria border is very difficult to secure.

Yet, by May 2013, the Jordanian government had managed to shut down most of these crossings. Now, the best hope for Syrians to cross into Jordan lies in travelling to the East, where Syrians must endure the harsh desert, government checkpoints, bombings, pro-government militias, and Bedouins who often demand bribes to allow fleeing civilians to pass. As one refugee told me, “From Deraa, it can take about 15 days to travel to the desert border crossing near Ruwayshid [city in eastern Jordan]. When people arrive there, they are almost always out of food and water. Many need medical care. But then they have to wait for Jordan to let them enter. This can take one week, one month, or more.”

These controls have prevented many Syrians from being able to leave Syria at all. Those unfortunate enough to be in this position are often forced to live in large displaced persons camps around Nassib, Tel Shihab, and other border towns. This problem is aggravated by the inability of many Syrians living north of Deraa to find out about the border restrictions. Thus, many Syrians go to Deraa, only to learn that they cannot cross into Jordan from there. Instead, they have to go back north to Damascus, then to Sweidah, and then east to the desert border crossing from which they can reach Ruwayshid in Jordan. People without the money to pay for this trip are often left with no options other than staying in the displaced persons camps.

These camps host thousands of people, and sadly have not been safe from bombing by the Syrian government, including barrel bombs. As fighting moves closer to the border, there is an increased likelihood for violence to cross into Jordan. On Monday, August 11, a rocket fired from Syria reportedly landed a few hundred meters from Zaatari. Jordanians have also been hit by stray bullets from fighting along the border. Bold attempts to cross have even forced the Jordanian military to take lethal action, such as when it destroyed trucks with Syrian rebels attempting to enter Jordan in April 2014.

This situation leads to the Jordanian military intercepting as many refugees as they can when they cross the border. Thousands of refugees have been sent directly to the Zaatari refugee camp. Now, with the opening of the Azraq refugee camp, all refugees are sent to Azraq except refugees for whom UNHCR determines there are protection concerns. Regardless, most refugees, understandably, strongly dislike the camps.

Hence, there are many attempts to leave them. The main system that the Jordanian government has implemented to allow people to leave is known as the bail-out system. This system, which I briefly discussed in my previous post, was originally meant to be a compromise between UNHCR and the Jordanian government. For UNHCR, it is a way to give people some freedom to leave the camps. For Jordan, it is a way to facilitate effective monitoring of refugees when they leave the camps.

In practice, refugees have often avoided this system, choosing instead to bribe Jordanian military officers for the opportunity to leave the camps. These refugees do not get registered with the Jordanian Ministry of Interior, and only sometimes register with UNHCR. Therefore, large numbers of people are outside the official system, making them extremely challenging to monitor. It is therefore unlikely that Jordan would be hosting an estimated 100,000 unregistered Syrian refugees, as it currently is, if it were not for the border closures and restrictions. Now that there are so many unregistered refugees, officials fear that there is a serious risk that these unregistered Syrians will become involved in radical groups.

Through its own attempts to maintain its security, Jordan is creating security challenges for itself. Its decision to close and/or restrict entry at its border crossings with Syria has contributed to a situation where there is insecurity along the border and a growing number of unregistered, poorly monitored Syrians. Without such controls, there would surely be more Syrians in Jordan, but they would be easier to monitor. It is also likely that border areas would be more secure. Jordan would be safer as a result.

Comments (42)

Ziad said:

Reflecting on the Ferguson events. Here are 40 minutes you must watch

An Israeli soldier speaks out

August 15th, 2014, 12:00 am


ghufran said:

Terrorists from Ghmam village north of Latakia shelled a vegetable market and a residential area in Latakia (Zira’aa)killing 5 people and wounding 32.
next time any of you wonder why rebels lost support remind me to throw an electronic shoe at him.

August 15th, 2014, 1:48 am


Frances Smith Starn said:

Those poor refugees (and Jordanians) caught in that vortex of unintended consequences. Wonder if we can extrapolate to reconsider the U.S./ Mexican border closing.

August 15th, 2014, 6:12 am




I carefully read all points mentioned against Israeli army. Almost all practices can be put on Assad milicias.
Very sad indeed.
Will you boicott Assad, Iran and Hizb Zballa too ?

August 15th, 2014, 6:56 am


Jasmine said:

It is pay back time for Jordan.
They should have known better when they contribute to the training and arming of extremists in the early days of the mess in Syria.
It would help the refugees more if they stop those peodophiles coming from the Gulf to marry and slave under aged Syrian girls from the camp.
It would help the refugees more if they prevent Jordanians for using Syrian children as a cheap labour forces in their factories and shops.
It would help the refugees more if they coordinate their efforts of reconciliation with the Syrians authorities to facilitate their return home.
Jordan is a beggar state and now it has a good excuse to expand this activity.

August 15th, 2014, 8:18 am


ALAN said:

The west has turned the world into a fearful place unfit for a normal life! the world has become brutal and scary. F*ck Your western civilized-Brute World gentlemen.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Security and Intelligence Studies program at Bellevue University

Hi Ziad! glad to see your participation.

August 15th, 2014, 9:19 am


ALAN said:

Lebanon: The situation is heating up
“We call on the international community partners to carefully and objectively evaluate an extremely dangerous trend that is clearly emerging in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. It is necessary to abandon the practice of double standards and to refrain from taking steps that do not lead to deterrence, but rather to the capacity of terrorist and extremist threats in the turbulent region of the Middle East. Authorities in Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut are facing a common danger, the spread of international terrorism, which does not recognize international borders and seeks to subjugate new territories” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

August 15th, 2014, 9:40 am


Ziad said:


“Will you boicott Assad, Iran and Hizb Zballa too?”

The current Syrian government has a lot to respond for in torture, brutality and corruption. It made many mistakes, like following a globalization path in the economy and trusting the Turks as friends and allowing them to feel as if Syria were a Turkish protectorate.

You do not seem to recognize that the current Syrian revolution is not about stopping torture, but about who gets tortured. For me this revolution seized to be, if ever it was, a popular uprising for bread and justice. It is one episode of a zio-neocon plan to destroy the Arab Middle East to allow the long-term existence of Israel. We see the results of the other episodes in Iraq and Libya. It is shameful how many Arab countries and Syrian nationals are playing along. According to some estimates there are hundred thousand fighters fighting the Syrian army. Have you asked yourself who is providing them with food and arms, and weather the providers are doing it out of love to the Syrian people?

As for Hizbullah. There demonization is part of the plan to stir sectarian emotions. I have the greatest respect for it. I fail to hear a single sectarian word uttered by Nassrallah. In my opinion, they are taking the right side and fighting cleanly. Both cannot be said of the other side.

Many ex regime haters like myself came to recognize that the only way for Syria to remain a unified and viable state, is for the Syrian army to be victorious.

Sandro, you are free to think what you want and I respect you for it.

August 15th, 2014, 10:38 am


omen said:

5 died so we should forgot the 3oo,ooo regime butchered.

just like a regime apologist to threaten to electrocute someone who disagrees with him.

August 16th, 2014, 12:25 am


omen said:

shorter zaid:

“syrians have to be sacrificed and massacred so israel can be punished.”

August 16th, 2014, 12:28 am



Alan, not seeing how a dictatorship has provoked the death of 500.000 people and created chaos all around may be a mental illness.

Yes, I said 500.000 people, or do we have to believe that from January 2012 until now the number of 100.000 has just increased to 170.000 ? Only in one week last month 2.000 known people died. Only yesterday some 100 people died.

August 16th, 2014, 2:10 am


ALAN said:

Where these numbers? in Afghanistan? Pakistan? Libya? Who is the dictator? Netanyahu? Sahak Shvili? Kings of the Gulf?

/Western governments traditionally play down the connection between Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabist faith, on the one hand, and jihadism, whether of the variety espoused by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda or by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Isis. There is nothing conspiratorial or secret about these links/

August 16th, 2014, 4:41 am


Observer said:

Proof that all of this barbarity is born and bred by the regimes of the region without exception and that sectarian hatred has taken root.

As one of my friends with very astute observations said
1. It is time for Israelis to pack their bags
2. Our way of life is finished forever in the West
3. OBL will look like a choir boy compared to what is coming

August 16th, 2014, 4:06 pm


jo6pac said:

Alan & Ziad here’s something for you from Penny. The west is as evil as they come. Yes, Syria did some torturing the cia use to drop of people under contract before this mess started.

August 16th, 2014, 4:36 pm


ALAN said:

Because the time factor is very significant,China and Russia need to think 24 hours a day, how to move the fronts to the depth of opponents to deplete their forces and capabilities! it’s time to take the initiative to work in depth of behind the scenes aggressors.
I am surprised at how the Arab world looks at ISIS as Takfiri Islamic forces, but in fact , they are non traditional NATO forces.
Glory for brave Syrian Arab Army

August 17th, 2014, 6:47 am


ALAN said:

The ISIS Crisis and the Fall of Maliki

Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist
The hope for the region lies the refusal of the Syrian people to surrender, as community militias and Hezbollah fighters stand alongside the Syrian Arab Army against the US backed terrorists. Hope lies with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a stronghold of economic independence and anti-imperialism. Hope lies with the united efforts of Iraqis to defeat ISIS, and break down the ethnic and religious divisions fomented by the west. Hope lies with the people of Palestine, who are standing united and resisting in the face of Israel’s effort to completely wipe them out.

The mass suffering in the region has been created by the intervention of the west. It is the various efforts to break free from western economic control that point the way out.

August 17th, 2014, 7:09 am


Syrian said:

Robin Williams’ ‘Aladdin’ quote inspires Syrian rebels

“To be free. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world,”

August 17th, 2014, 5:52 pm


Ghufran said:

Isis was targeted by syrian AF and Kurdish fighters yesterday in a fierce campaign that was the largest since the beginning of the war, opposition sources claimed that ” foreign jets” took part in the bombing but I have not seen a confirmation of that in western press.
Aksalser allowed comments that praised the operation reflecting a shift in public opinion due to a late realization that Isis must be stopped at all cost. Kurds claimed that they took control of Mosul Dam and SOHR reported that Isis suffered heavy losses in Raqqa and Dayr Azzour. One regime news outlet went as far as declaring that the war to take back Raqqa has started. Two elements are still missing: the cooperation of Turkey and a political decision by non Isis / non nusra rebel leaders to accept a cease fire with the Syrian army after the fall of Mlaiha. Signs of the willingness of KSA to end their support of rebels are all over the place but what it unclear is at what price and under what conditions.
It is tragic that much of Syria had to be destroyed before big players call it a quit, I like many Syrians believe that the main goal of the war was to destroy Syria and topple the regime to weaken Iran and hizbullah. The regime was not toppled but the destruction took place, now we have an unpopular regime and a country in ruins half of which is under the control of Islamist terrorists. You know it is over when the only horses in the race are Isis and the Assad regime.
كل ثوره و انتم بخير

August 17th, 2014, 9:46 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Why should Israelis “pack their bags”?

So far, Israelis protects themselves pretty nicely.
Islamists never target the strong, but the weak and the unprotected. Arabs will be IS first targets. Israelis will be among the last, if at all.

August 18th, 2014, 11:12 am


Akbar Palace said:

Will you boicott Assad, Iran and Hizb Zballa too ?

Sandro Loewe,

Because joo and Israeli hate is so inbred, magnified and exaggerated, arabs/muslims killing other arabs/muslims doesn’t seem to get any attention from the boycott crowd. Go figure.

August 18th, 2014, 12:35 pm


ALAN said:

Last week, the Obama administration latched on to the plight of Iraq’s Yazidis who were being persecuted by those awful ISIS folks – just in jolly good time to divert attention from the massacre in Gaza.

Obama: you are a coward and stupid. and I think you’re the last president of the United States. Syria will break your back. You’re bluffing in Iraq when Israel committed a great crime in Gaza. you are the arms supplier of ISRAEL. will stand in the same place with the Israeli command in an international court as war criminals! we will hang you for the testicles!

August 18th, 2014, 12:45 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Alhan’s Anti-Zionist Missile Comparison Research Paper due Aug. 18, 2014


How many missiles did the Yazidis and al-Sheitaat tribe fire on the poor ISIS head-choppers?

For comparision, the poor Gazans fired about 3000 missiles into Israel this year.,_2014

August 18th, 2014, 1:33 pm


ALAN said:

Mey be Obama is amazed by the Zionist machine and how deep it goes into the bowels of DC corridors of power! He probably hates that gun to his head but that is life in the most corrupt city in the world.

August 18th, 2014, 3:25 pm


sami said:


Let’s compare oranges to oranges shall we. If the poor gazans fired 3000 poorly made inaccurate missiles that mainly moved some dirt around, how many missiles and bombs did the poor israelis fire at gaza?

August 18th, 2014, 4:41 pm


Akbar Palace said:

25. sami said:


Let’s compare oranges to oranges shall we. If the poor gazans fired 3000 poorly made inaccurate missiles that mainly moved some dirt around, how many missiles and bombs did the poor israelis fire at gaza?


You’re right. An oranges-to-oranges comparison doesn’t apply because the ISIS Islamofascists were not threatened all all by the two groups they massacred. That was my point. The Syrian tribe as well as the Yazidis didn’t have ANY missile technology at all. So where are the BDS heroes when it comes to dead arabs who aren’t killed joos? Maybe you know?

As far as the GOI’s response to missiles, we will have to agree to disagree. If 3000 missiles landed in the middle of Utah, I’m afraid the US gov’t (or any gov’t) would not be so kind. And if there is any indication, the US, Turkey, Syria, Iran and all the ME players have killed far many more innocent civilians in the region.

I hope Hamas learned their lesson like HA did, but I doubt it. There is no competing political party in Gaza.

August 18th, 2014, 4:53 pm


Sami said:

With all that and yet you still did not answer my question. How many missiles and bombs did the poor israelis fire on gaza?

Islamofacsists are not so different from judeofacsists or chrsitian fanatics. They all prey on the weak and all these idiots give their respective religions a bad name. Bringing them into the discussion is just meandering from the question at hand.

August 18th, 2014, 5:22 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Excuse Me, but your Bias is Showing NewZ

With all that and yet you still did not answer my question. How many missiles and bombs did the poor israelis fire on gaza?


How about 4,762 versus 3,360 missiles fired at Israel? Is that too many? What should the limit be?

Here is where I got the numbers:

Islamofacsists are not so different from judeofacsists or chrsitian fanatics.

Really? Which arab country (Egypt or Jordan) offered the Palestinians their own state when they occupied Palestine? How many heads have the Christians and Jews sliced off of innocent (or guilty) arabs? Which Christian and Jewish-led government is run by an un-elected murderous despot? And lastly, which Christian and Jewish-led terror organization is forcing people to adhere to Christian or Jewish law or face death?

Anyway, you may understand my opinion better in arabic. Wafa Sultan does a fairly good job. You may want to pass this link to an Hamas supporter.

August 18th, 2014, 8:11 pm


Sami said:

Again, you do a fantastic job in distracting from the question and not actually answering it. How many bombs and missiles did Israel launch at Gaza?

August 18th, 2014, 9:34 pm


Akbar Palace said:


I told you, 4,762. What number do you have?

August 18th, 2014, 10:48 pm


sami said:

It claims to be a “struck” target. Not how many times it was actually struck. And anyone looking at the aftermath of the Israeli onslaught would say it is a lot more than just 4700+ rockets and bombs. Not to mention the artillery and heavy armour barrages…

And yes, one rocket from either side is too many but while one side is using crudely homemade missiles that just moved dirt around (these rockets are so inaccurate that they hit Gaza 475 times which comes out to 14%) while the other side is using so called smart bombs that level entire neighbourhoods and its done so in the name of fighting terrorists. (kinda like what Assadists say when they barrel bomb civilians)

And I don’t have that number since the Israelis would never release it because it would show how much of a hypocrite it is if it did so.

August 19th, 2014, 12:21 am


Juergen said:

I dont know if this video of VICE was published here yet, I urge all to watch this.

August 19th, 2014, 12:32 am


Akbar Palace said:


I assume that number also reflects the number of projectiles fired. Wars aren’t exact science. And how many of the Gaza dead were combatants, again, this is something Hamas isn’t going to share with us.

Also, I don’t care how accurate or inaccurate Hamas missiles are. They are fired into Israeli population centers like Tel Aviv, they are longer range, and the war heads are larger. If it wasn’t for Iron Dome, the death and destruction would be a lot worse. No coutry would stand for it, and Israel is no different. Moreover, the tunnels into Israeli territory were a direct threat as Hamas was using them to terrorize Israel.

I really don’t care if someone supports the Palestinians or if someone supports the Israelis. We all tend to support the people we associate with. But if you want to support Hamas, who has wasted their time, energy and money digging miles and miles of tunnels, risked the lives of people including children building these tunnels, and risked the lives and property of their own people by taking on a far superior military, then I don’t feel sorry for you or the people who elected this Islamofascist government.

Gazans would fair better if their government built a peaceful society instead of waste it all on “resistance”.

August 19th, 2014, 7:59 am


sami said:

I don’t support hamas and never did. I find their rhetoric despicable and backwards.

If a peaceful society is what you aim for then try your damnest to end the occupation. For as long as Palestinians are occupied they will continue to resist.

August 19th, 2014, 9:02 am


ALAN said:

Syrian air defenses! get ready!
Clearing the airspace for US air strikes.

US Bars All American Airlines from Flying Over Syria

August 19th, 2014, 10:10 am


Akbar Palace said:

I don’t support hamas and never did. I find their rhetoric despicable and backwards.


OK, then we’re closer in opinion than I thought. But it is not just their “rhetoric” that is despicable and backwards, it is also their actions.

If a peaceful society is what you aim for then try your damnest to end the occupation. For as long as Palestinians are occupied they will continue to resist.


Originally, the GOI approached Hamas. This turned into a murderous dead-end, literally. Also originally, there was no blockage on Gaza, that is, until the GOI found that Hamas was importing sophisticated weaponry. And let’s remember, the blockade is something that Egypt shares with the GOI.

Gaza was emptied of joos, without any agreement in place. Farming infrastructure was left to benefit Gazans and it was destroyed. There was no occupation of Gaza since then. The remainder of the occupation is minimal. Israel and the US made proposals which were rejected by Arafat that gave the Palestinians nearly 100% of the West Bank and sharing of Jerusalem. Did Jordan offer this to the Palestinians? Did Egypt offer Gaza to the Palestinians?

Let’s call a spade a spade. Hamas and the PA are NOWHERE ready to cease claims on Israel and take the responsibility of creating a successful state. They prefer a government of conflict and donations from willing idiots.

August 19th, 2014, 10:38 am


ALAN said:

Steve McMillan considers the future fate of the Iraqi state:

According to him, the plan to destroy Iraq as a whole goes to the finals. The militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Western-funded, provided the latest excuse for re-invasion of that country. This version of the situation allows the West to take control of Iraq’s oil reserves, while the militants ISIS will continue to tinker with impunity outrage on Iraqi soil.

August 19th, 2014, 11:04 am


annie said:

“32. JUERGEN said:

I dont know if this video of VICE was published here yet, I urge all to watch this.”

Whatever makes people happy. Exchanging one dictator for another.

August 19th, 2014, 12:32 pm



35. ALAN

“Syrian air defenses! get ready! Clearing the airspace for US air strikes.”

LOOOOOOL, Syria is going to clear the airspace to help US army bomb Syria… This is your brave Assad, cooperating with US !!!!LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

Ya kalbul Assad, wallah mafi ahra minnak ya kalb

August 19th, 2014, 4:09 pm


ALAN said:

cc: to attention of Joshua Landis
Dear Moderator!
I earnestly request you to ban 39. SANDRO Loew who attacked me using insulting words “Ya kalbul Assad, wallah mafi ahra minnak ya kalb”

August 20th, 2014, 6:06 am


ALAN said:

you must respect the commentators of any sight and do not go out of the framework of good taste!
Offer you read “Clearing the airspace for US air strikes.” refers to the link itself
Clearing the airspace for US air strikes?
US Bars All American Airlines from Flying Over Syria

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has barred all American airlines from flying over Syria, saying the ongoing conflict poses a “serious potential threat.”
by the way, I unlike you never to allow a foreign aggression to my homeland.

August 20th, 2014, 6:22 am


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