Jordan: Three months after border closure, hope for wounded Syrians fading fast

At least 59 war-wounded Syrians, including 11 children aged between three and 14 years old, have been denied medical evacuation into Jordan over the past three months.

Working with its partners inside Syria,  Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has recorded at least 59 cases of access to Jordan being denied to war-wounded Syrians, six of whom subsequently died. All required urgent medical evacuation from Dara’a governorate, in southern Syria, to MSF’s emergency surgical project in Ramtha hospital, Jordan, located less than 5 km from the border.

With intense fighting continuing, MSF believes that the actual number of people in need of immediate medical evacuation is much higher. MSF knows for a fact that four hospitals it supports in southern Syria have stopped referring patients over the border to Jordan as they understand patients will not be allowed in.

Mohammad Al Nuaimi, aged 30, from Dara’a city, told MSF that his three children were seriously injured after playing outside their house with unexploded ordnance. “I tried to pull them away, but the explosive went off and I was injured along with my children. We had to be moved from one hospital to another in search of specialised doctors and equipment, such as an X-ray machine, but doctors told me the severity of their injuries mean they need to be referred to Jordan, where they have the necessary medical treatment and equipment.”

“Despite my hopes, I have been informed by the medical evacuation team that the border is completely closed and that neither I nor my children are allowed to cross into Jordan, and that the decision is final. I feel frustrated and helpless, but I am forcing myself to remain strong and to find a solution to keep my children alive,” said Mohammad.

The prolonged conflict in Syria has decimated the country’s healthcare system and forced many medical professionals to flee. Those hospitals in southern Syria that are still open have very limited capacity to respond to highly complex injuries, leaving wounded Syrians with no option but to seek medical care in Jordan, the nearest safe destination.

Prior to the closure of the Jordanian-Syrian border on 21 June, war-wounded Syrians were being regularly evacuated from southern Syria into the Jordanian border town of Ramtha. MSF’s medical teams saw an average of 50-80 wounded per month in the emergency room of Ramtha hospital. Sixty percent of MSF’s patients in Ramtha chose to return to Syria after being discharged.

“Whenever we heard the ambulance siren, we would run to the emergency room to see what new injury would be brought in and how we could help,” says Dr Mohammad Momani, MSF emergency room doctor in Ramtha. “Now we no longer hear the sirens, but we can still hear the bombings on the other side, and we know that there are still many injured in desperate need of reaching Ramtha hospital, but who cannot because the border is closed.”

MSF’s medical team in Ramtha continues to care for patients admitted before the borders were sealed. Working closely with the Jordanian Ministry of Health in Ramtha since September 2013, MSF has received 2,427 wounded in the emergency room and carried out more than 4,500 surgical interventions, including more than 800 major surgeries.

“Our teams have been providing lifesaving surgical care, as well as post-operative rehabilitative care, to war-wounded Syrians in a convenient and secure environment since September 2013,” says Merja Hietanen, MSF’s medical team leader in Ramtha. “They have helped Syrian patients recover physically and mentally, away from war and destruction. This is what makes access into Jordan, and into Ramtha hospital specifically, a necessity for the severely wounded.”

MSF is deeply concerned about the continued denial of access to war-wounded and other gravely ill Syrians to Jordan for three consecutive months, and reiterates its calls to the Government of Jordan to immediately resume medical evacuations for those in need, especially women, children and lifesaving cases, as they are entitled to receive medical treatment under international humanitarian law.

MSF has been working in Jordan since August 2006 when it set up a reconstructive surgery project in the capital, Amman. Since 2013, MSF has been running an emergency trauma surgical project in Ramtha hospital, as well as a mother and child hospital and two non-communicable disease projects in Irbid and Ramtha to support both Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians.