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In Jordan, Not All Syrian Refugees are Equal Reply

By: Hector Sharp

More than 600,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Jordan since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil war, including 15,000 registered Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS), although the number of unregistered PRS is likely  much higher. The Jordanian government originally afforded PRS refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, but, in January 2013, Amman banned their further entry. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said in an interview with Al-Hayat on July 8th 2014, “Jordan has made a clear and explicit sovereign decision to not allow the crossing to Jordan by our Palestinian brothers who hold Syrian documents,” adding, “They should stay in Syria until the end of the crisis.” This new policy also threatened PRS who already entered Jordan with arrest and deportation. Moreover, the irregular status of PRS in Jordan denies them the right to legal protections such as challenging a deportation in a Jordanian court.

By April 2012, 1,300 PRS had crossed  into Jordan legally.  However, intense fighting between Syrian government troops and opposition fighters near the Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, caused a dramatic increase in PRS seeking refuge in Jordan. Jordan responded by refusing entry to PRS a couple of months later, but officially denied such a policy until Prime Minister Ensour announced it in January 2013.

Jordan has not made clear what specifically motivated it to adopt this policy. But Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said on January 9th, 2014 that “Jordan is not a place to solve Israel’s problems,” referring to the the Palestinian right of return issue. Fayez Taraweh, Chief Justice of Jordan’s Royal Court explained it in terms of national security, “if Jordan permitted entry [to PRS], then hundreds of thousands would seek permanent refuge in Jordan, thereby permanently increasing the number of population [with] Palestinian origin.” This imbalance, he argued, would negatively affect the security of the country.

The Jordanian Government has arrested hundreds of ‘illegal’ PRS. Moreover, Jordanian authorities established ‘Cyber City’, a refugee camp and detention center, in 2013, which currently holds over 180 PRS.  Jordan typically deports PRS after detention at Cyber City, but often directly after arrest as well. PRS have no opportunity to challenge deportation with the exception of lobbying via UNRWA, which seldom succeeds.

Following deportation, PRS frequently enter dangerous and even life threatening situations. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases where PRS have been killed  after being deported to Syria.  The number of deportations increased in 2013 and 2014 and most reports indicate they continue today.

Since Jordan lacks any domestic asylum law, refugees and asylum seekers are treated as ‘non-nationals’ under Law No. 24 of 1973 on Residence and Foreigners’ Affairs. Whereas, The Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan gives refugees slight protection stating, “Political refugees shall not be extradited on account of their political beliefs or their defence of liberty.”Further, Jordan has ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment which prohibits refoulment, essentially protecting an asylum seeker from being thrown back into the violence they were fleeing.

However in practice Jordan has attempted to sidestep any responsibility for PRS by repeatedly denying them admittance at the Jordanian border. While international law does not confer a right to asylum to PRS rejected at the border, International law does require Jordan to ensure the safety of those escaping violence, either by offering temporary refuge or removal to a safe third country.

With ongoing conflicts in both Syria and Iraq, the refugee population in Jordan continues to balloon. Jordan’s response thus far has been generous, although discriminatory towards Palestinian refugees. Jordan has repeatedly denied PRS admittance at the border contradicting the principle of non-refoulement, which holds Jordan responsible for sending PRS back into danger.  This policy towards PRS compounds a dire situation in Syria, it forces refugees to make the perilous trek across contested territory to seek refugee in Lebanon or Turkey, thereby needlessly putting lives at further risk.

Hector Sharp is currently a law student at the University of Melbourne, previously he worked as a Legal Intern for UNWRA’s Jordan Field Office

Photo Credit: Photographed by Omar Chatriwala, distributed by Flickr Commons

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