Photo: © UNICEF/Miraj

Negotiating humanitarian access to Syrians

RedR Australia’s Hayden Pickering is being credited with helping to end a humanitarian crisis on the Syrian Jordanian border last year.

Around 50,000 people were stranded when the Jordanian Government closed the border, after an Islamic State attack on a guard post left seven dead and several more injured.

Hayden was deployed to assist the United Nations to negotiate with the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF), for access to Syrian refugees that were trapped in a no man’s land between the two countries.

Humanitarian crisis

A humanitarian crisis quickly unfolded as the Jordanian border region became a closed military zone and the authorities restricted access for Syrians into Jordan and humanitarian access to the stranded population. Many of them were asylum seekers fleeing the war but it’s a vulnerable population mix as Islamic State is known to operate nearby. Whilst water was provided, food was running out and there were increasing serious health issues. The people needed urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance.

In September, the United Nations negotiated an agreement with the Jordanian authorities to allow access for humanitarian aid but the terms and conditions of that access still needed to be agreed upon and, as the civil military coordinator, it fell to Hayden Pickering to liaise between the JAF and the UN agencies, to finalise those terms and conditions and ensure the access was gained.

“His deployment came at a critical time and it is without a doubt that his contribution has accelerated access at the berm,” his supervisor at OCHA Sarah Muscrot told RedR.

“Hayden, very quickly understood how he could use his knowledge and expertise to advance our negotiations with the Jordanian authorities to resume the delivery of humanitarian assistance at the berm.  With very little support or guidance he developed all of the supporting documents necessary to secure the approval of the Jordanian authorities for the berm operations,” she said.

International aid

“It took a couple of months but finally, in November last year, the first aid trucks went over the border and it was a great moment,” Hayden said from Amman.

After the June attack, the Jordanian border region became a closed military zone Hayden explained adding that the Jordanians first priority was to secure their borders from terrorist attacks to ensure the safety and security of their own people.

“We had to respect that and find a way that would satisfy their legitimate security needs but still enable us to address the humanitarian imperative,” Hayden said.

 “The situation in the berm is distressing. There’s been snow out there over the winter and now we are moving towards extreme temperatures in the forties. When you are living in these conditions, under a plastic sheet, it’s tough,” he said.

There is now an aid distribution point near the Syrian berm and, since December, the JAF has provided security assistance for the UN and its partners to conduct health screening and provide life-saving assistance for those needing emergency medical treatment.. So far, they have allowed 900 people to cross the border into Jordan for medical treatment.

There is no doubt that lives have been saved as a result of the resumption of humanitarian aid to people at the berm.

Jordan currently hosts more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees whilst there are 2.8 million registered in Turkey and over a million in Lebanon.