Desperate to help Syrians stuck on Jordan’s sealed border, U.N. agencies agreed late last year to an aid system that critics say handed much of the control over aid distribution to Jordan’s military and a Jordanian contractor, and also involved armed men on the Syrian side.
Since then, the system has broken down repeatedly and only sporadic aid shipments have reached two remote desert camps on the border that house thousands of Syrians displaced by war. Rival groups in the larger Rukban camp accuse each other of diverting aid, and black marketers flourish.
Separately, the Tribal Army, a Syrian militia that says it was asked by Jordan to police Rukban, struck deals on access and protection with World Vision and Cap Anamur, but the two foreign aid groups pulled out of Rukban after bombs targeted Tribal Army forces near their installations.
Critics say the struggle to provide aid to stranded Syrians reflects the international community’s wider failure in responding to the refugee crisis. Some 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since 2011, but countless others are trapped in a country at war after neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — which absorbed most of the influx — largely closed their borders.
“Syria is locked in, and I think this is an issue which is not at all in the public debate or being raised by the aid agencies,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, a former Jordan-based U.N. refugee agency official.
Jordan closed its border for good in June 2016 after an Islamic State car bomb attack launched from near Rukban killed seven Jordanian border guards.
Since then, international aid organizations have wrestled with the dilemma posed by sending aid to an off-limits area.
Do they join a system that relies on armed escorts and can’t guarantee aid reaches the intended recipients? Or do they uphold humanitarian principles if at the cost of not helping women and children trapped in harsh conditions?
The U.N. refugee agency, which leads aid efforts on…