Refugees say they have been marooned by an ongoing Syrian bombing campaign, unable either to cross into Jordan or return to their homes. They say they have moved into abandoned schoolhouses, disused bakeries and demolished buildings in towns and villages across the south amid near-constant air raids as they await a chance to leave.
“We have no money, no food, no home and now nowhere left to go,” said Mohammed al- Saeed, who has been living in a makeshift shelter in the border town of Tal Shihab with his family of five since fleeing his home town of Ghouta Sharqiyyeh, or Eastern Ghouta, five days ago. “Sometimes I believe we would be better off dead.”
Local residents say the influx from Ghouta has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with municipalities running low on staples such as flour and cooking oil and unable to care for people allegedly suffering from trauma and gas poisoning.
“We are trying to host our brothers and sisters from the Damascus countryside as best we can, but we cannot even feed them, let alone treat them,” said Ahmed al-Saad, an activist with the Local Coordination Committees opposition network in Tal Shihab, which has reportedly taken in 5,000 refugees in the past week.
In the rebel-held town, residents and activists say they have set up a hospital in a local mosque but are able to offer only expired aspirin tablets and herbal remedies to men, women and children exhibiting signs of gas poisoning.
Abu Mohammed al-Assad is one of several people in the town who say they arrived with loved ones hovering between life and death.
“The Free Syrian Army helped evacuate my family so we could get medical attention for my son, who cannot walk or see after the attack,” Assad said from Tal Shihab, where his 22-year-old son, Ahmed, is receiving “basic care” at a makeshift hospital.“Now all I can do is sit beside him and pray.”
The United Nations has expressed worry about the thousands said to be fleeing toward Jordan. Andrew Harper, the U.N. refugee agency’s representative in Jordan, has reported no arrivals since the alleged gas attack.
“There is a real concern that there are large numbers of those who are in desperate need of asylum and immediate care and are not being able to cross through,” Harper said. “All we can do is prepare for the necessary care should they come.”
News of impending Western-led airstrikes against the Syrian government offered little solace to the Ghouta survivors, many of whom hold the United States and European countries responsible for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and their current plight.
“For two years, the world has watched in silence as Bashar killed 200,000 of our children,” said Um Ahmed al-Dimashqi, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Dimashqi, who arrived in Tal Shihab on Monday, said her son was killed in Ghouta. “Why did my son have to be number 200,001 for the world to take notice?” she said.
Some called for the West to impose a no-fly zone, or buffer zones, along the Jordanian-Syrian border to protect them from the Assad government’s air raids and roaming militias.
The United Nations estimates that up to 93,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began but has said the number could be considerably higher. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has said the death toll could be more than 100,000.
Despite the border clampdown, the flow from Ghouta continued Thursday. The Free Syrian Army reported the departure of 3,000 residents from the towns of Ghouta Sharqiyyeh, Zamalka, Doma and Dhumeir.
Yet as Western leaders beat the drums of war and Syrian fighter jets continue to fly overhead, the stranded survivors say their plight has just begun.
“We may die by hunger or by missiles,” Saeed said. “But God will remember who left us to die.”