JORDAN: Ceasefire in southern Syria will prevent refugee influx, but large-scale return of Syrian refugees unlikely in coming six months
UN officials on 8 July said that almost all of the estimated 60,000 Syrians who had gathered at the Jordanian border over the past few weeks had since returned to their home areas. They had been displaced by a recent escalation of fighting in Daraa, but were able to return after Syrian President Assad and the rebels agreed to a truce in the city on 6 July. The ceasefire was partly brokered by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who met in Moscow on 4 July. Some low-level fighting between the Syrian Army and some rebel groups has however continued in some areas of Daraa.
Since 2014, Jordan had supported anti-Assad rebels in southern Syria, who were mostly grouped in the Southern Front alliance. This was partly a response to requests from the former Obama administration, which had supported the rebels in order to weaken Damascus. By backing the southern rebels, Amman also hoped to limit refugee flows into Jordan, which have strained its resources, and prevent infiltration by Islamic State (IS) militants. However, after Trump ended US support for the rebels in 2017, Jordan limited its involvement in Syria to mediating between warring parties. The latest fighting in Daraa, which began after the collapse of a Jordan and Russia-brokered de-escalation agreement between Assad and southern rebels on 14 June, led to additional Syrians fleeing to the Jordanian border.
Jordan’s refusal to allow the displaced Syrians to enter the country reflects that Amman will continue to avoid accepting additional large numbers of refugees, which would further strain its infrastructure and finances, and thereby fuel social and political tensions in the Kingdom. For the same reason, Jordan will continue to use its influence with the southern rebels to ensure they observe the truce. As a result, the ceasefire will likely largely hold, though periodic low-level fighting in Daraa will persist, deterring Syrian refugees from affected areas from returning from Jordan. Nonetheless, Syrian and Russian military deployments in the border areas will help ensure a level of stability there. This will also prevent another refugee influx and reduce the potential for IS cross-border infiltration.
The Syrian Government’s regaining of the important Nassib border-crossing with Jordan as a result of the recent agreements will also encourage Amman to improve relations with Damascus, both to improve trade and to arrange the repatriation of Syrian refugees. However, while increased stability in southern Syria and the continuing harsh conditions in Jordanian refugee camps might motivate some Syrians to return, large-scale repatriations will not take place until Assad provides credible assurances that the families of rebels and army defectors will be guaranteed security upon their return. This means that the majority of refugees in Jordan are unlikely to go home to Syria in at least the next six months, sustaining pressure on the Kingdom’s economy during this period. That said, recent pledges of financial aid of USD 500 million from the World Bank and USD 1 billion from the European Investment Bank will help Amman to ensure continued socio-political stability over the coming year.