September 10, 2006

V. 2003 Flight from Iraq and the Jordanian Response

Initial Flight and the Establishment of al-Ruwaishid and al-Karama Camps

The harassment and physical attacks faced by Palestinians and other third-country nationals in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the war caused many to seek refuge in Jordan. Most of the Palestinians fleeing Iraq preferred to go to Jordan because of its relative proximity, the similarity of its culture, its relative freedoms and openness, family ties, and because most of the other countries bordering Iraq kept their borders firmly closed, especially to Palestinians.[29]

Prior to the 2003 war, Jordan had prepared for a refugee influx with the help of UNHCR and local and international aid organizations.[30] While Jordan is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol,[31] it still has obligations under international law regarding the treatment of refugees. Customary law on refugee protection provides that the prohibition on refoulement (return) "applies to the moment at which asylum seekers present themselves for entry," and includes non-rejection at the border.[32]

With the agreement of the Jordanian authorities, UNHCR and its humanitarian partners prepared two camps inside Jordan's border, equipped to house up to 10,000 refugees: one camp for Iraqi refugees (al-Ruwaishid Camp A) and a second camp for third-country nationals fleeing Iraq (al-Ruwaishid Camp B, administered by the International Organization for Migration).Third-country nationals Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and others began arriving as early as March 20, 2003, and were quickly moved to al-Ruwaishid Camp B. Because the third-country nationals were quickly moved out of Jordan, Ruwaishid Camp B was soon closed, leaving only one camp for Iraqi refugees at al-Ruwaishid.

As violence against Palestinians rose in Iraq, hundreds of Palestinians started moving towards the Jordanian border, together with Iranian Kurdish refugees who had come under similar attacks in their al-Tash refugee camp outside Ramadi. However, Jordan closed its borders to both these refugee communities seeking safety, forcing them to remain inside the no-man's-land (NML) between the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. By April 20, at least 1,000 Palestinians and Iranian Kurdish refugees were stuck in the NML.

After protests from UNHCR and other international actors, the Jordanian authorities allowed some 550 Palestinians to enter Jordan on May 1, 2003, placing them in al-Ruwaishid CampA. Before allowing them to enter, however, the Jordanian authorities forced the Palestinians to sign a vaguely worded waiver, stating that they would return to Iraq as soon as the current crisis was over and the situation stabilized.[33] The Jordanians did not allow the Iranian Kurds to enter some 1,136 of them remained in the NML, ultimately housed in a makeshift camp that became known as al-Karama, after the name of the Jordanian border post, and which operated until 2005. The opening of the border was a one-time concession by the Jordanian authorities: after letting in the Palestinians to al-Ruwaishid camp, Jordan soon again closed its borders to Iraqi Palestinians, and the few who managed to cross the Iraqi border after that were kept at al-Karama camp inside the NML.

Al-Ruwaishid camp

Since entering al-Ruwaishid camp in May 2003, the Iraqi Palestinians who have fled Baghdad have lived a harsh life in the Jordanian desert, with little hope of escaping from their internment at the guarded camp. The Palestinians were used to urban lifestyles and were not prepared for life in the desert. Children make up 60 percent of the camp population.

Conditions inside the desert camp are harsh. Frequent windstorms whip fine sand into every tent, and some of the humanitarian aid workers have resorted to wearing goggles in order to work in the difficult conditions. Respiratory problems among camp residents are omnipresent, and the heat in summer is unbearable. Three years after their arrival, the refugees are still housed in simple tents and structures of wooden frames and sewn-together blankets. During an April 2006 visit, Human Rights Watch witnessed the aftermath of a windstorm that had overturned a trailer housing Jordanian border officials, putting three of them in hospital.

For the past three years, the residents of al-Ruwaishid camp have been virtual prisoners.A fence surrounds the camp, which Jordanian police guard. They grant the refugees permission to leave the camp to go shopping in al-Ruwaishid town, but otherwise the refugees cannot leave the camp. When they require hospital treatment, the police maintain constant guard, even over their hospital beds. Visits by anyone relatives, friends, journalists, humanitarian or human rights officials to al-Ruwaishid camp require the Jordanian minister of interior's prior permission. The Jordanian mother of three Iraqi Palestinian children (two of them minors) whom the Jordanian authorities will not allow to join her in Amman, has to obtain such permission before being able to visit her children in the camp (the plight of this family, the Haddats, during these children's earlier confinement at al-Karama camp is described below).[34]

The blanket prohibition on persons leaving refugee camps violates Jordan's obligations under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a party, recognizes the right to freedom of movement for refugees and asylum seekers no less than for citizens.[35] A state can only limit the right to freedom of movement for such persons when they present a threat to national security and the restrictions are enacted in law.[36]The difficult and primitive living conditions in the border camps have resulted in at least one death.Three-year-old Aya Lu'i `Awni Wahdan burned to death on April 9, 2005, and her mother and a neighbor suffered severe burns, after a fire whipped up by strong winds incinerated four tents in the camp. Aya had spent nearly her entire, short life in al-Ruwaishid camp.[37]

A Royal Order in 2003 gave 386 Palestinians who were at al-Ruwaishid camp with their Jordanian spouses temporary asylum with their families in Jordan (but barred them from working).[38] The only other Palestinians who have been allowed to leave al-Ruwaishid camp are people who decided that it is preferable to return to Baghdad (see below).

Al-Karama Camp, 2003-2005

Jordan's restrictive policies towards the Iraqi Palestinians were nowhere more apparent than in al-Karama camp, located in the two-kilometer-wide no man's land (NML) between Jordan and Iraq. The NML is ordinarily used to provide physical space for the large number of cars and trucks that are awaiting processing at either border post.Although Jordanian, Iraqi, and U.S. forces operate inside the NML, neither Jordan nor Iraq currently claims sovereignty or exercises jurisdiction over it, although both parties have a presence in their respective half of the NML. Visits to the NML require coordination among Jordanian, Iraqi, and U.S. military officials.

Having opened its borders to Iraqi Palestinians briefly, in May 2003, as described above, Jordan left all later arrivals stranded in the NML, or turned them away at the border (the only relaxation of this was the limited admission of people after al-Karama camp was closed in April 2005 see below). Jordan's policies towards Iraqi Palestinians, including forcible transfer from al-Ruwaishid to al-Karama camp (which was effectively expulsion from Jordan), split families.

One such family is the Haddats (already mentioned above). Khalid, age twenty-one, his brother Yusuf, age seventeen, and their sister `Ala', age fourteen, are the children of a Jordanian mother, Simah `Uday and an Iraqi Palestinian father who died in 2002 in Iraq.Mother and children fled Iraq in May 2003, and when they reached the border Jordanian authorities put them in al-Karama camp, where Simah `Uday stayed with the children for eight months before leaving for Amman to live with relatives. Simah `Uday and her children did not benefit from the 2003 Royal Order allowing Jordanian women married to Iraqi Palestinian refugees to enter Jordan with their families, simply because they were in al-Karama camp and not al-Ruwaishid camp. (The children were moved to al-Ruwaishid camp when al-Karama closed in April 2005.)[39]

Zuhair Ibrahim, a fifty-nine-year-old taxi driver from al-Dura neighborhood of Baghdad, reached al-Ruwaishid camp with his family in May 2003. On May 27 he asked and obtained permission from the Jordanian camp authorities to leave the camp and visit his son at the Jordanian-Iraqi border to obtain some money. When he tried to return, however, the camp officials denied him entry to al-Ruwaishid camp, sending him to al-Karama camp instead. For the next two years, until the closure of al-Karama camp in April 2005, he was separated from his family in al-Ruwaishid camp, unable to visit or be with them. He saw his family only once, for fifteen minutes, when he was hospitalized at al-Ruwaishid municipal hospital in 2004.[40] In another case, Abu Hanan's two sons reached al-Ruwaishid camp in April 2003. When Abu Hanan, his wife, and two daughters reached the border one month later, they were denied entry and remained at al-Karama camp. For the next two years, the family lived separated by just sixty kilometers, but unable to visit each other. They were reunited upon the closure of al-Karama camp.[41]

In April 2004, youths in al-Ruwaishid camp clashed with the Jordanian police and slightly injured a police captain with a rock. On July 21, 2004, the Jordanian authorities summarily forcibly transferred (expelled) thirteen refugees from al-Ruwaishid camp to al-Karama camp, separating the youths from their families. One of the deportees told Human Rights Watch that the police told the group, "Now you will be staying at al-Karama, and you will never return to Jordan." That group of refugees remained at al-Karama camp until Jordanian authorities closed it in April 2005. Before allowing them to leave, a Jordanian Ministry of Interior official warned them: "If you ever even breathe the wrong way again, we will return you to Baghdad by force."[42]

No Readmittance to the Camps after Return to Baghdad Proves Non-Viable

The unbearable conditions in al-Ruwaishid and al-Karama camps induced at least 250 Palestinians to return to an uncertain future in Baghdad rather than remain in the camps.[43] Almost all of the returns occurred in 2004. Fifty-three-year-old Nasir Hussain, a painter, stated at the time of his return:

We have now waited so long here that we'd rather return to Iraq and die in freedom than remain in a refugee camp where we have no life amidst the snakes, scorpions, scorching heat and penetrating sandstorms. After a year, I know that there is no solution for us here, even hope cannot be found anymore.[44]

Many Iraqi Palestinian former al-Ruwaishid camp residents, who had "voluntarily" returned to Baghdad in 2004, in April 2006 once again fled persecution in Baghdad toward Jordan. This time, Jordan closed its borders, and Iraqi border guards prevented them from leaving Iraq. Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, one of the Palestinians stranded on the Iraqi side of the Jordanian border, told Human Rights Watch that the 2003 Royal Decree (mentioned above) had allowed him to leave al-Ruwaishid to join his Jordanian wife in Amman, but barred him from working. Because he could not support his family, he returned to Baghdad in July 2004 so he could earn money to send to his wife and children in Amman, making it possible for his children to go to school. Since the Samarra bombing, however, he again had to flee Iraq because of the insecurity and his inability to find work or a home. He went to rejoin his family, but this time was blocked from entering Jordan at all. Sitting in the makeshift desert camp, he told Human Rights Watch, "Now I have no job and can't support them again."[45]

[29] Flight to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait was impossible because of the lasting resentment against Palestinians following the 1991 Gulf War, when PLO chief Yasser Arafat had embraced Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia expelled Palestinians en masse following the war. Iran was an unfamiliar country for most Iraqi Palestinians, and seen as hostile because of its Shi`a identity. Turkey was far away and difficult to enter.Little is known about Iraqi Palestinian movement to Syria. The main movement was towards Jordan.

[30] Participant organizations included the International Organization for Migration, Mdecins Sans Frontires, Oxfam, the Jordanian Red Crescent Society, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mdecins du Monde, Japan Platform, and the Hashemite Charity Foundation.

[31] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 189 U.N.T.S. 150, entered into force April 22, 1954; Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 606 U.N.T.S. 267, entered into force October 4, 1967.

[32] See Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, The Refugee in International Law (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996 2nd ed.), pp. 123-24; see also ExCom Conclusion No. 22, Protection of Asylum-Seekers in Situations of Large-Scale Influx, 1981 (noting that persons who "owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part of, or the whole of their country of origin or nationality are compelled to seek refuge outside that country" are asylum-seekers who must be "fully protected," and "the fundamental principle of non-refoulement including non-rejection at the frontier-must be scrupulously observed.").

[33] Human Rights Watch interviews in al-Ruwaishid refugee camp.See also, "Amman Allows 200 People to Enter from No-Man's-Land," IRIN News, April 23, 2003.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Khalid Muhammad Jihad al-Haddat, al-Ruwaishid refugee camp, May 1, 2006.

[35]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICCPR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), entered into force January 3, 1976.The Human Rights Committee, the body that monitors compliance with the ICCPR, has recognized that the ICCPR must apply "without discrimination between citizens and aliens." The term "aliens" includes asylum seekers and refugees. The Committee further notes that, "Aliens have the full right to liberty and security of the person.... They have the right to liberty of movement and free choice of residence.... These rights of aliens may be qualified only by such limitations as may be lawfully imposed under the Covenant."Human Rights Committee,"The Position of Aliens Under the Covenant,"General Comment 15, 1986 para. 2.

[36] The ICCPR, arts. 12(1) & (3),provide for the principle of freedom of movement in the following manner:"Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence." This right to freedom of movement can only be restricted as "provided by law" if "necessary to protect national security, public order, public health, or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others."

In sum, the right can be understood in the following manner:

Every non-citizen (including an asylum seeker or refugee) who is lawfully present in a country must enjoy the right to freedom of movement; Limits enacted in law can be placed on this right if a non-citizen is not lawfully present; Limits enacted in law can be placed on this right if a non-citizen presents a threat to national security, public order, public health, etc.; States cannot discriminate between the freedom of movement rights of non-citizens and citizens, unless non-citizens present a threat to national security, in which case the limits on the right must be enacted in law; and States cannot discriminate between the freedom of movement rights of different categories of non-citizens.

[37] "Child's Death Highlights Refugees' Plight on Iraq-Jordan Border," UNHCR News Stories, April 15, 2005.

[38] UNHCR Spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis, "Iraq: No Man's Land Refugees," UNHCR Briefing Notes, December 10, 2004.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Khalid Muhammad Jihad al-Haddat, al-Ruwaishid refugee camp, May 1, 2006.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Zuhair Ibrahim Kamil `Abbas, al-Ruwaishid refugee camp, May 1, 2006.

[41] "Reuniting Refugee Families at Ruwaishid Camp," UNHCR News Stories, June 1, 2005.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with member of deported group, al-Ruwaishid refugee camp, May 1, 2006.

[43] Pagonis, "Iraq: No Man's Land Refugees."

[44] "PalestiniansLeaveDesert Camp for Baghdad," UNHCR News Stories, May 26, 2004.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.