70,000 stranded in buffer zone
Almost 70,000 Syrian refugees are trapped in no-man’s land on the Jordan-Syria border on a demilitarised zone a just few kilometres wide.
Blocked from entering Jordan, the Syrians are camped out in remote, wind-swept conditions near a border crossing known as Rukban.
The area is demarcated by ridges of bulldozed earth known as berms.
Syrians began arriving at this stretch of desert in July, 2014, and with Jordan refusing entry to most, the camp has grown and become home to a mix of smugglers and rebel groups.
To add to the confusion, extremist militants, Jordanian and allied foreign forces are also active in the area.
Aid has been reduced to almost nothing, and the UN and donors have been trying to thrash out a deal for weeks making this place one of the most desperate on the planet.
But a new plan for Rukban, drafted by the UN in consultation with the Jordanian military, lays out the means by which tens of thousands of people will be rescued from potential destitution.
Under the deal, aid will reach the refugees but under new security conditions.
Donors are expected to fund a $39 million package of humanitarian measures, as well as additional security support to Jordan but the package will not allow more refugees into Jordan.
The new aid distribution point will be moved deeper into the demilitarised zone, possibly just into Syria, in the hope that the displaced Syrians will move northwest of their current location.
The new distribution point will be patrolled by a unit of Syrian security guards trained in Jordan, while fencing and other measures aim to contain movement.
The deal, agreed in principle by the UN but not yet formally accepted by the new chief of the Jordanian Armed Forces, General Mahmoud Freihat, comes three and a half months after a suicide bomber entered Jordan through the distribution area and detonated his vehicle.
Following the incident, aid was suspended.
For Jordan, a key ally of the US active campaigner against extremism in the region, security is a key concern. The ease with which a militant entered the country from amongst the civilians at Rukban berm and carried out a suicide mission has concerned authorities.
The new compromise deal offers hope to the stranded refugees while assuaging the fears of Jordanian security officials.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist