Syrian refugees in Jordan

In a barren patch of the Jordanian desert, Syrian refugee Abu Mohammad, a pseudonym, lit a cigarette inside a square metal shelter that serves as home these days, lowered his gaze and started talking about what led him here. He and the rest of the refugees interviewed requested that their names be changed for fear of reprisals against relatives still in Syria.

It began over a year ago in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa with black-clad men bearing black flags and accents he did not recognize. Months passed as Islamic State (IS) militants tightened their chokehold on the city along the Euphrates River, soon declaring it the capital of their caliphate, a territory that also spans large swaths of Iraq. Abu Mohammad watched the transformation in agony.

“Women must wear black and be fully covered in Raqqa. If [IS fighters] saw you on the street at prayer times, they would place you in confinement for three days where they would re-teach you how to pray,” Abu Mohammad told Al-Monitor at Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, some 100 km (62 miles) east of the capital Amman.

Daily restrictions were followed by tighter control and more violence.

“Violating any of their established rules, like skipping fasting in Ramadan or selling alcohol, leads to whipping. Corporal punishment and execution are also practiced. If you got caught dealing drugs, for instance, you would be executed. ‘Prosperity Rotary’ in Raqqa is now dubbed ‘Rotary of heads’ because the militants impale heads of the people they kill on poles, especially regime soldiers,” he added.

In early September, Abu Mohammad crossed the border with his wife, mother and children following air strikes conducted by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad that pelted IS territory during their late August takeover of the Tabaqa Military Airport near Raqqa.

Jordan has so far given sanctuary to some 620,000 of the over 3 million Syrians who have fled their country since the onset of the conflict in March 2011.

There are some suggestions that Jordan is now not allowing refugees to cross the border. For many it is the easiest escape route, but for Jordan, the burden on the country is enormous.

Pray for refugees, those working with them, the Church and the government in Jordan as they respond, and for other nations to support the work that this nation does for refugees.

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