Not Welcome Jordan’s Treatment of Palestinians Escaping Syria
The 46-page report is based on interviews with more than 30 people affected by the non-admission policy. Human Rights Watch also documented Jordan’s withdrawal of Jordanian citizenship from some Palestinians who had lived in Syria for many years and who have been detained or deported to Syria without identity documents. Jordan’s uncompromising treatment of Palestinians fleeing Syria contrasts with its treatment of Syrian nationals, at least 607,000 of whom have been accepted into the country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict Before the March 2011 uprising began, Syria was home to at least 520,000 Palestinian refugees.
Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria in 2011, Jordan has welcomed over 607,000 refugees seeking safe haven from the bloodshed and fighting there. Jordan, however, has not allowed all groups from Syria to seek refuge in the country. Authorities began denying entry to Palestinians living in Syria beginning in April 2012 and officially declared a non-admittance policy in January 2013.
In declaring the policy, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour argued that Palestinians from Syria should be allowed to return to their places of origin in Israel and Palestine, and that “Jordan is not a place to solve Israel’s problems.” He said, “Jordan has made a clear and explicit sovereign decision to not allow the crossing to Jordan by our Palestinian brothers who hold Syrian documents…. They should stay in Syria until the end of the crisis.” The head of Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court told Human Rights Watch in May 2013 that the influx of Palestinians would alter Jordan’s demographic balance and potentially lead to instability.
In accordance with this policy, Jordanian security forces turn away Palestinians from Syria at Jordan’s borders, and seek to detain and deport back to Syria those who enter at unofficial border crossings using forged Syrian identity documents, or those who enter illegally via smuggling networks. Jordan does in principle allow in Palestinians from Syria who hold Jordanian citizenship but even for this category of Palestinians, Jordanian authorities have denied entry to those with expired Jordanian documents and in some cases have arbitrarily stripped them of their citizenship and forcibly returned them to Syria.
Deportations of Palestinians to Syria are a violation of Jordan’s international obligation of nonrefoulement, the international customary law prohibition on the return of refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or the return of anyone to the risk of torture.
In spite of Jordan’s non-admittance policy, as of July 2014, over 14,000 Palestinians from Syria had sought support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Jordan since the beginning of the conflict. Of the 14,000, approximately 1,300 reported entering Jordan before authorities began pushbacks of Palestinians at the Syrian border. Most of these come from Palestinian refugee camps and villages in southern Syria or from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the southern suburbs of Damascus, all areas that have witnessed intense fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces. Before the March 2011 uprising began, approximately 520,000 Palestinian refugees were registered with UNRWA in Syria.
As a result of the Jordanian government’s policy, many Palestinians from Syria do not have proper residency papers in Jordan and are therefore vulnerable to exploitation, arrest, and deportation. Undocumented Palestinians from Syria inside Jordan cannot call on the protection of the Jordanian government when facing exploitation or other abuses because of the risk of arrest and deportation. Unlike Syrians, Palestinians cannot legally live in the official refugee camps for Syrians and have no choice but to rent apartments in Jordanian towns and cities, but cannot legally work to earn money for rent.
According to the Syria Needs Analysis Project (SNAP), a non-governmental monitoring group that provides independent analysis of the humanitarian situation of those affected by the Syrian crisis, since 2013 Jordanian security services have detained and returned over 100 Palestinians to Syria. In its February 2013 Syria Crisis Response Annual Report, UNRWA noted that the agency has documented numerous cases of forcible return, including of women and children.
Human Rights Watch documented Jordan’s refoulement of seven Palestinians from Syria in 2013 and 2014, and the transfer of four others to Cyber City, a closed holding facility for Palestinian and Syrian refugees. At this writing there are approximately 180 Palestinians and 200 Syrians residing in the facility. Other than short periods of leave granted to some Cyber City residents every two to three weeks to visit their family members in Jordanian cities, Palestinians living in Cyber City can only leave the camp to return to Syria.
Jordan’s harsh treatment of Palestinians fleeing Syria also extends to Palestinian residents of Syria who are actually Jordanian citizens or descendants of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin. Many left Jordan to Syria during or after the 1970-71 Black September conflict between Palestinian guerrilla fighters and the Jordanian army. The Jordanian government has not explicitly stated that its non-entry policy for Palestinians is tied to the Black September history. Those who were involved in Black September would now be at least in their 60s, if not older, and their children and grandchildren should not be held accountable for acts that may have been committed by their parents or grandparents more than 40 years ago.
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Source: Human Rights Watch