Jordan is forcibly turning back Palestinians fleeing the violence in Syria or detaining them at the border, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday. The rights group cited more than a dozen cases of Palestinians being refused entry into Jordan at the border crossing or threatened with deportation.
"Since April, Jordanian authorities have automatically detained all Palestinians who enter Jordan without passing through an official border post, without the possibility of release. No such policy exists for thousands of Syrians entering the same way," the HRW statement read.
Over 100,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since an uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule began in March 2011, although the vast majority are not recognized as refugees by the state.
Protest against Syria's President Assad in Gaza (Photo: Reuters – Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
HRW says Syrians fleeing the crisis are not treated with the same restrictions as Palestinians from Syria, urging Jordanian authorities to treat all civilians escaping the violence equally.
"To its credit, Jordan has allowed tens of thousands of Syrians to cross its borders irregularly and move freely in Jordan, but it treats Palestinians fleeing the same way differently," said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate for Human Rights Watch.
"All those fleeing Syria – Syrians and Palestinians alike – have a right to seek asylum in Jordan, move freely in Jordan, and shouldn’t be forced back into a war zone."
Jordan screens all asylum seekers from Syria through a guarantor policy, detaining all arrivals – Syrian and Palestinian – before a Jordanian guarantor, who assumes responsibility of the asylum seekers, steps forward.
Syrians need only prove their identity before being allowed to enter the country with a guarantor, but Palestinians have been excluded from the policy since mid-April 2012, HRW alleged.
HRW cited the case of a 29-year-old Palestinian woman who recently fled with several relatives, but remains detained near the border. Jordanian authorities are refusing to permit them entry, despite her father and sister having already successfully entered Jordan in August 2011.
In its statement, the New York-based rights group warned Amman that arbitrary detention of asylum seekers constitutes a violation of international law.
A Jordanian official denied that his country was turning back Palestinians, but implied to HRW that Palestinians without sufficient documentation would not be permitted entry.
"[We are] not preventing Palestinians with documents from coming in," HRW quoted Sa’d al-Wadi al-Manasir, the general secretary of the Interior Ministry, as saying.
More than half of Jordan's population are Palestinians, mostly descendants from the 1948 exodus when the state of Israel was created on historic Palestine.
Over 400,000 Palestinian refugees also live in camps in Syria.