(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Hundreds of Syrians on Monday protested against their transfer to a recently opened refugee camp as authorities imposed new regulations restricting their movement within the country.
The refugees held impromptu sit-ins at transit facilities in protest against their imminent transfer to Jordan's first official Syrian refugee camp, a collection of 2,000 tents in Zaatari, on the outskirts of the border city of Mafraq, describing the site's conditions as "inhospitable".
"They expect us to live in the desert under the sun, exposed to the weather and flies," said Abu Mohammed, a 42-year-old Daraa resident currently residing at the King Abdullah Park transit facility, one of four guarded complexes where Syrians are hosted as they undergo background checks.
'We are Syrians,
Um Ahmed, a Daraa resident, said living in a desert camp was the "last thing" she expected when she set out on a five-kilometre journey into the Kingdom on her wheelchair.
"If this is life as a refugee, dying in Syria as a martyr is a better option," the 70-year-old said.
According to eyewitnesses, authorities' efforts to transfer the first batch of Syrian refugees from the Bashabsheh facility late Sunday was met with resistance, requiring the intervention of security services.
The UN and the government opened the camp, designed to be expanded to a 130,000-person capacity, on Sunday in a bid to cope with a refugee influx that has reached a pace of some 2,000 persons per day.
As part of an initial "pilot phase", some 500 Syrians are being transferred from transit facilities to the new site per day ahead of a mass transfer of refugees later next month.
Meanwhile, a new policy restricting the movement of Syrians within Jordan has gone into place, which relief officials are calling the first step towards the establishment of a series of "closed" refugee camps.
Some 200 Jordanians and Syrian nationals were turned away from the Ramtha District governor's office on Monday after being told that authorities were no longer accepting or processing financial guarantees signed by Jordanian nationals that clear the way for refugees to exit the centres.
Unable to confirm the reasons behind the policy shift, introduced by the interior ministry on Sunday, Ramtha District Governor Radwan Otoum said the decision was "all but final".
The policy change was a blow to guarantee applicants, many of whom had come across the country to assist their loved ones, such as Abu Ahmed, who spent the last three weeks shuttling between Amman and Ramtha to secure the release of his brother and his five children.
Abu Ahmed said that after weeks of bureaucratic red tape, he was "one signature away" from being reunited with his brother on Monday.
"We have spent money, days and energy, and now it seems he may never leave," said the 42-year-old Daraa resident
"We have spent the last two years going from disaster to disaster."
According to the UN, the policy reversal has stranded "thousands" of Syrians at the four major transit facilities, placing undue pressure on overcrowded facilities that are receiving some 1,500 additional refugees each day.
"The change in regulations has created a logjam, but we hope that with the Zaatari camp, things will run smoothly soon," UNHCR Representative Andrew Harper told The Jordan Times.
Government officials stressed that the new restrictions, along with the opening of the Zaatari camp, were meant to better organise humanitarian relief efforts amid a growing "refugee crisis" in the northern region.
"The Jordanian government is committed to meeting Syrian refugees' basic rights of shelter, protection, food and healthcare," Government Spokesperson Samih Maaytah told The Jordan Times.
"We believe that having all operations in one centre is the best way we can allow our guests to live in a dignified manner."
Although unable to confirm whether the new restrictions would extend to residents of Jordan's first Syrian refugee camp, Maaytah indicated that the movements of Zaatari camp residents would remain "limited".
"This camp will be a centre for humanitarian relief and services; there will be little need for Syrians to leave the camp."
Earlier this month, following a surge in the influx of refugees the government gave the UN the green light to establish up to 22 camps in the border region.