Jordanian force cordons off Syrian refugee camp

Wednesday - 3/20/2013, 3:27pm EDT

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 file photo, newly arrived Syrian refugees wait for their turn to receive a mattress, blankets and other supplies, and to be assigned to tents, at the Zaatari Syrian refugees camp in Mafraq, near the Syrian border with Jordan. Jordan has set up a security cordon around a sprawling Syrian refugee camp in the country's north in an effort to curb rising crime and lawlessness among its residents, a Jordanian official said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon, FIle)

DALE GAVLAK
Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- Jordan has set up a security cordon around a sprawling Syrian refugee camp in the country's north in an effort to curb rising crime and lawlessness among its residents, a Jordanian official said Wednesday.

The cordon around the Zaatari camp, which is now home to over 100,000 Syrians who fled the civil war in their country, will be enforced by members of Jordan's desert patrol force, said Anmar Hmoud.

Hmoud, a government spokesman for Syrian refugee affairs, said it will prevent refugees from leaving Zaatari or Jordanians from entering the camp without authorization.

The move follows reports from the camp, which is near the Jordan-Syria border, that its often-impoverished refugees are increasingly engaging in drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes.

The desert patrol, known as the Badia force, is recruited from Bedouin tribes that live in the area, said Hmoud. He did not elaborate on what arms the force would carry, the details of their duties or how they would enforce the security cordon

Hmoud said the figure of Syrian refugees at Zaatari has reached 137,595 -- almost a third of more than 450,000 Syrian refugees who have found shelter in Jordan. The remainder live among relatives and on their own means in nearby Jordanian towns.

The overcrowded Zaatari has stretched Jordan's resources. Conditions in the wind-swept desert camp have also deteriorated since it opened last July and there have been several incidents of rioting in the camp and clashes with Jordanian police.

Last week, U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said his agency was working with Jordan to bolster security at the camp.

The camp has also had several fires break out in recent months, including a blaze that killed a Syrian man.

Hmoud confirmed that another fire erupted at Zaatari on Wednesday, destroying 15 tents. He said there were no injuries or fatalities in the latest blaze, which was caused by illegal extension of high tension wires to the tents in the camp.


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