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Jordan: Obama Should Press King on Asylum Seeker Pushbacks

Palestinian Refugees, Single Men, and Undocumented Unlawfully Forced Back to Syria

Jordan is routinely and unlawfully rejecting Palestinian refugees, single males, and undocumented people seeking asylum at its border with Syria, said Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (the Harvard Clinic) today.

While attention during US President Barack Obama’s visit to Jordan on March 22, 2013, will focus on the large number of Syrian refugees that Jordan has welcomed and accommodated since the start of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, its rejection of these categories of asylum seekers fleeing the violence should not be ignored, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic said.  Obama should seek assurances from King Abdullah II that Jordan will not reject any asylum seekers at its border with Syria. The risks to their lives in Syria are too serious to send anyone back at the present time.

“King Abdullah’s support for 350,000 Syrian refugees deserves President Obama’s praise, but Obama should not give Jordan a free pass to force Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers back to Syria,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch. “Jordan should recognize that everyone – and that includes Palestinian refugees, single men, and undocumented people – has the right not to be forcibly sent back to Syria to face the risk of death or serious harm.”

In two separate trips to Jordan and Lebanon, in January and February, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic conducted in-depth interviews with more than 120 Syrian and Palestinian refugees from Syria. Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic documented that, as a matter of policy, Jordan is turning back people from Syria at its border without adequately considering the risk to them. Such a policy violates the international law principle of nonrefoulement, which forbids governments from returning refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

The total number of asylum seekers rejected at the border since the fighting began in Syria is not known. But many of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic interviewed in Jordan said that they saw Palestinians, single men, and undocumented people from their groups being refused entry at the border or forcibly returned after initial screening at a police center in Mafraq determined that they belonged in one of these groups.

Witnesses said that border guards explicitly warn members of these groups that they are not allowed to enter Jordan, sometimes forcing them to return directly to places in Syria where violent clashes are occurring without any consideration for the risk they face. One Syrian man married to a Palestinian woman recounted what a Jordanian Border Patrol officer told him at the border on December 16, 2012:

“You can come, but she is not allowed because she’s Palestinian.” I told them our house is burned down and that we have no house to go back to. The Border Patrol officer said, “That is not our problem.” I begged him. My wife and children were begging and crying not to be sent back. He said, “It is impossible,” and put us in a military vehicle and took us to the border.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour has publicly announced Jordan’s policy to reject Palestinian refugees from Syria. In October, he told Al-Hayat, “Jordan has made a clear and explicit sovereign decision not to allow the crossing to Jordan by our Palestinian brothers who hold Syrian documents.”

Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic also found that some Palestinian asylum seekers who have managed to enter Jordan are at risk of refoulement to Syria. Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic documented cases in which at least eight Palestinians have been forcibly returned to Syria from inside Jordan since September.

Mahmoud Murjan and his wife and children were forcibly returned from Cyber City, a detention facility in Jordan, to Syria on September 25. Murjan was arrested at his home in Syria 20 days after he was forcibly returned, and his body was later dumped on the street in front of his father’s house, showing bullet wounds and signs of torture.

In this detention facility all refugee movements are restricted. However, the Jordanian authorities are much more flexible toward Syrian refugees and often grant humanitarian "bailout," whereas Palestinian refugees are only rarely granted such leave.

“The detention of Palestinians in Cyber City, as well as discriminating against Palestinians and single males as ineligible to seek asylum within Jordan, violates Jordan’s international legal obligations,” said Meera Shah, clinical advocacy fellow at the Harvard Clinic. “Jordan should treat individuals in these categories the same as all other asylum seekers fleeing the fighting in Syria.”

Prior to the conflict in Syria, an estimated 500,000 Palestinian refugees lived there.  Like the rest of the Syrian population, Palestinians have suffered from the violence. Palestinians interviewed by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic reported fleeing their homes in Syria because of  aerial bombardment or the destruction of their homes by shelling and bombing. Others were personally targeted by the Syrian government, and had been arrested and mistreated or tortured.

Many said they chose to seek asylum in Lebanon because they knew the Jordanian border was closed to them. Lebanon has kept its border open to Palestinian refugees from Syria, although it requires them to pay a visa fee equivalent to US$17 per person, which is not required of Syrian refugees entering Lebanon. Lebanon hosts 32,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria, according to the United Nations.

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Background on Refoulement From Jordan

Rejection of Palestinian Refugees at the Syrian Border
With rare exceptions, Jordanian authorities at the Syrian border have refused entry to Palestinian refugees who are not Jordanian citizens. Syrian identity documents, including so-called “family books,” indicate if the bearer is Palestinian. It was common knowledge among the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic, whether Syrian or Palestinian, that Palestinians were being rejected at the border. Many interviewees personally witnessed Palestinians traveling with them turned away at the border, and some were rejected themselves:

“At the reception area, the officer asked, ‘If there is a Palestinian among you, tell me.’ [Name] forgot and said, ‘I am Palestinian.’ They grabbed him and sent him back. They sent him to Taybeh. It is a very dangerous place where people are shot.”

  • Palestinian man, 37, from Al-Mzareeb, Daraa

“At the border, the Jordan Army saw I had a fake family book [ID] and threw it in my face. ‘You are a Palestinian. You can’t enter.’ We were a group of 60. My wife, baby, and I were the only three stopped. We were sent back to where the FSA [Free Syrian Army, armed opposition fighters] brought us.”

  • Palestinian man, 23, from Al-Mzareeb, Daraa

“I went to the border with my passport and documents – I am an Egyptian-Palestinian with a Gaza travel document. I was by myself. They returned me – this happened about a month ago.  They [the Jordanians] didn’t want to let us in, but there were clashes, and they were forced to let us in to the military checkpoint. There, a Jordanian officer saw my documents and sent me back along with 10 other Palestinian families. We returned the same way we came in, even with clashes. People begged the officer to let us in, but he said, ‘You are Palestinian, you’re not wanted here.’”

  • Palestinian woman, 37, from Al-Mzareeb, Daraa

“Even entering the country they treated us well, but they said, ‘If anyone wants to enter and he thinks he can fool us, anyone with a fake ID or a false driver’s license or a Palestinian ID, go back now so we won’t hold him accountable.’ This was said in front of 150 people, anyone with a fake ID or a Palestinian ID had to go back.”

  • Palestinian man, 22, from Yarmouk Camp, Damascus

Among Palestinian refugees from Syria interviewed by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic in Lebanon in January and February 2013, it was widely known that the Jordanian border was closed to them, leading many to seek asylum in Lebanon instead:

“My daughter married a Jordanian, but we came to Lebanon because Jordan does not welcome Palestinians.”

  • Palestinian man, 50, from Sayida Zeinab, Damascus

“Jordan does not allow Palestinians to enter, so I went to Lebanon. You could see people in Daraa who had been sent back. They told me they were sent back because they were Palestinians.”

  • Palestinian man, 20, from Daraa

“I went to the Jordanian border about three months ago. They told me on the order of the King that I was not allowed to enter. My children were also turned away. I was with a Syrian who was allowed in . . .  I know no one in Lebanon, but I feel safer here than in Yarmouk. I would sleep on the floor rather than go back to Syria.”

  • Palestinian man, 30, from Yarmouk

In Jordan and Syria, citizenship, as well as Palestinian refugee status, passes exclusively through the father. In Za`atari, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic met one Palestinian woman who was allowed into Jordan with her Syrian husband and children, and one Syrian woman who was allowed to bring her Palestinian child in with her. These appeared to be exceptional cases decided on an ad hoc basis. In contrast, the story of one 37-year-old Syrian man was more representative of those Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic spoke to. He described how the Jordanian authorities treated his Palestinian wife at the border when they arrived with their four children, two of whom had been wounded by shrapnel when their home in Al-Mzareeb, Daraa was hit by a bomb:

The Jordanians at the border were harsh. They bothered us a lot because my wife is Palestinian.  There were about 50 in my group. They asked, “Who is Palestinian? Who is Iraqi?” I did not tell them, but the family book says my wife is a Palestinian refugee. He threw the book down and said, “Your wife needs to be shipped back. You can come, but she is not allowed because she’s Palestinian.” I told them our house is burned down and that we have no house to go back to. The Border Patrol officer said, “That is not our problem.” I begged him. My wife and children were begging and crying not to be sent back. He said, “It is impossible,” and put us in a military vehicle and took us to the border.

They just threw us on the border. I again said, “We have no place to go.” A soldier shoved me and said, “We have enough Palestinians, we don’t want more.” They gave no notice to the FSA [Free Syrian Army] to escort us back. I told them to let us wait for the FSA and he said, “That’s not our problem,” and pushed us to the other side. It was at night, they did not even give us a bottle of water. This happened at Tell Shihab. We could hear clashes close by. 

On our second entry into Jordan, the same officer remembered me and said, “I sent you back two days ago. Why did I send you back?” I said, ‘Because my wife is Palestinian.’ I told him she went back to stay with her brother. They searched for her among the others in our group, but we came with a large group of 2,000, she covered her face and carried a neighbor’s baby, and got the ID of a Syrian woman who died.

His wife, now living in Za`atari with a false Syrian ID, added, “My biggest fear is that they will keep my children here and send me back.”

A corresponding rejection occurs when the husband and children are Palestinian and the wife is Syrian. A 32-year-old Palestinian man related what happened when he approached the Jordanian border with his pregnant wife, a Syrian national, and their three children, girls age 3, 4, and 5:

The Jordan Army said, “Your wife can come but you and your children cannot enter.” I told them we were escaping death. I said, “It is impossible for me to go back, kill me now.” The officer said, “That’s not our problem.  You have to go back.”

Military Intelligence took the family, including other relatives, to the Tell Shihab border and expelled them. They spent the next 18 days in the 200-meter stretch between the Jordanian and Syrian border observation posts:

Every night was the same routine. At 1 a.m. they would bring us in a car and tell us we have to go back. We would refuse. They would leave us in an open area between the trees. One time Military Intelligence pushed us physically, telling us we had to go back. Only once did they use physical force. They would shout at us and make us uncomfortable. They took our cell phones. One time the Syrian border guards shot at us when my brother was going to fetch water.

After eight attempts to send us back, they sent us to Wadi Hayat, a rough wilderness valley. We were among thorns from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. The children were crying. We still refused to go back. They took us back to Military Intelligence and asked us in a hostile way about events of 40 years ago before we were born [referring to September 1970 armed clashes between the Jordanian army and Palestinian fighters known as Black September]. I felt like a criminal, but I didn’t know what my crime was.

During the 18 days in the no-man’s land between the two borders, he said, he encountered other stranded Palestinians, including other mixed marriage families:

We saw a Palestinian woman with eight children whose family book showed her children to be Syrians. They told her that her children could enter but not her. She spent two days of suffering with us at the border, and then she took her eight children and went back.

Another Syrian woman married to a Palestinian man interviewed by the Harvard Clinic was allowed to bring her young child in, but her husband was turned away:

“The Jordanian officer let us in, my daughter and I, but returned my husband. He said, ‘It’s impossible to let you all in, you and your daughter can go in, but Palestinians are not allowed.’ We got the news, Palestinians cannot go in. We had come with a family book and Palestinian ID.  When they saw the papers, they said we couldn’t come in.”

  • Syrian woman, 19, married to Palestinian man, from Ataman, Daraa.

Her husband attempted to cross a second time, but was again returned.

Rejection of Single Men and Undocumented People
Men seeking asylum at the Jordanian border who are not accompanied by other family members, as well as undocumented people, are routinely rejected. Although the Syrian refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic at the Za`atari camp overwhelmingly said that they were welcomed warmly and helpfully by the Jordanian Army, most also said that Jordanian soldiers or border authorities rejected single men and undocumented people who were with their groups as they came to the border:

“They sent back every single man. Of our group of 80, they sent six or seven back. They rejected people who were undocumented. There were no Palestinians in our group.”

  • Syrian man, 33, from Douma, arrived January 31, 2013

“Single men were stopped and whoever doesn’t have an ID. Families were allowed through. In our group of 50, seven people were not let in.”

  • Syrian man, 37, from Daraya, arrived February 2, 2013

“At the border 100 of our group of 500 were turned away. The people turned away were single people, Palestinians, and married people without a family book.”

  • Syrian man, 21, from Daraa, arrived January 25, 2013

“The Jordanian Border Patrol welcomed and kissed us . . . They took some people back. One person was single, and was told you can only come as a family. Others had no documents and were turned away.”

  • Syrian man, 40, from Douma, arrived February 5, 2013

Two Syrian men said they had previously been turned away at the border until they were able to bring their mothers with them. The mother of one of these men said, “My son tried twice [to enter Jordan] and was turned away both times. So I came so he could cross as a family.”

A third Syrian man whose mother was already living in Jordan returned to the border to cross with him so that he would no longer be considered a single male. He said, “The Jordanian Army took me to the police security center. I told them my mother was here. I have her name. The found her and let me in. If I did not have my mother here they would have sent me back.”

A19-year-old Jordanian Palestinian who fled Yarmouk with his brother, his married sister, and her husband after their home was hit by bombs and their father was killed, was rejected as a single man, as was his brother, until their mother, a Jordanian citizen, intervened:

At the border, the Jordan Army at first welcomed us, gave us food and water, proper and friendly. Then they took us to the Mafraq police center. I told them I came with my sister and her husband and my brother, and that my mother is a Jordanian citizen living in Jordan. They said, “Your sister doesn’t count as your family because she is married and part of her husband’s family, so you and your brother are single men and must go back to Syria.” They put 21 people on the bus, all single men to take us back to Syria. We were the only two Palestinians. My mother got to the bus just before the bus was to take us back to the border.

Forcible Returns of Palestinians from Within Jordan
Despite the difficulties of crossing at the border, a relatively small number of Palestinians from Syria (4,569 as of March 8, according to the UN) have managed to enter Jordan. Some of these Palestinians entered at the beginning of the crisis, when Jordan apparently had a more lenient policy. Others have full Jordanian citizenship and crossed into Jordan at the official border crossing.

Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic also documented cases of Palestinians from Syria who entered with false Syrian IDs. In a few rare instances, Palestinians were admitted because of particularly heavy clashes the border at the time they were crossing, because they were wounded, or because a Palestinian woman was the wife of a Syrian husband with Syrian children. However, once in Jordan, the few Palestinians from Syria who managed to enter live in fear of being sent back to Syria. As one Palestinian in Za`atari camp said, “If they find out about me, they’ll send me back the same day.”

Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic documented eight credible reports of Palestinians from Syria being forcibly returned from within Jordanian borders. These cases raise concerns that Jordan is engaged in a broader practice of forced returns from within its borders to Syria, where returnees face a real risk of serious harm or persecution, a violation of both the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement and Jordan’s treaty obligations.

One known case of refoulement is the forced return of Mahmoud Murjan and his wife and children on September 25. Murjan was a Palestinian man whom the guards at Cyber City also regarded as a troublemaker. There is controversy about whether he was forced to sign a voluntary repatriation form and whether he continued to insist that he did not want to return as he was being expelled. One interviewee said that he had spoken to Murjan on the phone as he was being returned, and that Murjan said that he did not want to return and that the authorities who took him to the border threatened to shoot him if he did not continue walking back into Syria.

Murjan was killed in his home in Syria 20 days later, on October 15, after armed men came into his house, shot him in the leg in the presence of his wife and children, and pulled him into a car. Later that day, his body, showing marks of torture, was dumped on the street in front of his father’s house.

Another Palestinian woman from Cyber City was forcibly returned to Syria on the same day as Murjan and his family. She was assigned to the same room in the detention facility as two Syrian women. One interviewee reported that the three women ran into trouble with the camp authorities. “They got beaten up [by the authorities] and accused of bad behavior. . . . Police requested [to see] them at midnight and verbally abused them and decided [the Palestinian] one was crazy so sent her to a treatment center for crazy people.” The woman was at the treatment center for several months before she was brought back to Cyber City where she stayed for one week before being forced back to Syria in September.

According to accounts of refoulement from within Jordan, Jordanian authorities returned some Palestinian refugees to dangerous situations in the immediate border area to which they were being returned:

“On [date withheld], [Jordanian] Military Intelligence took [names withheld] to the border, beat them up, and pushed them across. They cocked a weapon and forced [name withheld] across. [Name withheld] stayed for three days [between Syrian and Jordanian border observation posts] sleeping among the rocks. The Syrian Army launched mortars at them. [Name withheld] was injured.  A sniper shot at him and he fell down and broke his leg.  They are now IDPs (internally displaced refugees) because their home is burned down. The Jordan Army also took all their documents and did not give them back.”

  • Palestinian man [identifying details withheld]

Another case of refoulement was the forced return of a man whose name and Jordanian nationality number are recorded by Human Rights Watch but concealed here to protect him. He is a Palestinian from the Sbeinah refugee camp in Syria with an expired Jordanian ID that included his nationality number, indicating that he is a Jordanian citizen and left Jordan in the early 1970s – the time of Black September –when he was 4 years old. He initially crossed into Jordan in the summer of 2012 without a problem, went to Za`atari, and was “bailed out” (allowed to leave the camp when a Jordanian citizen vouched for him) and living in Irbid. He went to renew his identity documents and was sent to General Intelligence in Amman, where he was blindfolded, handcuffed, and sent to the General Security prison in Jerash. From there he was transferred to Cyber City, but was rejected because they considered him a Jordanian, sent back to Za`atari, and from there put on a bus that took him across the border back into Syria in February 2013.

Three days later, he returned to the Jordanian border and attempted to enter again. He was taken to Military Intelligence, where he was interrogated all night and made to stand the whole time. The interrogator was very hostile. He said, “‘My father was killed in Black September. I will avenge his death.’” They sent him back to Syria a second time near Taybeh. The area to which he was returned was “a dangerous area” and shortly after he was forced back a mortar shell hit close to him, according to a source who has stayed in contact with him. He was last known to be in Syria.

These reports call into question statements from the Jordanian Interior Ministry that people only return voluntarily. Saleh Al-Kilani, refugee affairs coordinator, told the Harvard Clinic: “They [refugees] say, ‘voluntarily, I would like to go back.’ Anyone who wants to go back [must] sign a paper in front of UNHCR and IOM that says he wants to go back.”

However, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic spoke with people who said that these signatures were not always voluntary. One person described a family member’s forcible return to Syria:

“The military intelligence forced them to sign a return request, threatened them at gunpoint. . . . They forced them to sign so that the authorities wouldn’t have any responsibility, they want them to sign so that if the Red Cross or Human Rights Watch ask them why [they were sent back to Syria], they can say, ‘They signed a request.’”

  • Palestinian man, age and location withheld

Coerced returns where there is a real risk of serious abuse violate the principle of nonrefoulement. Anyone alleging such a risk is entitled to individualized determinations of their case.

Palestinians Are Fleeing Conflict and Persecution
Like others in Syria, Palestinians have suffered as a consequence of the conflict. Statements collected by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic underscore that some Palestinians have fled after having been arrested and tortured and that others are fleeing from shelling and bombardment of their homes and violent clashes in and around their cities and villages: 

“The regime did not distinguish between Syrians and non-Syrians when it started bombing. . . . I was injured in my leg. . . . For the Syrian regime, everyone who was injured was therefore a protester. . . . I was arrested for three months by security. . . . Every two to three hours a soldier would come in to beat or yell and shout at us. Our legs would swell up from so much beating, our toenails would fall off. . . .  I was transferred to a military hospital after several weeks. On the bed [in the hospital] your legs are tied up and you’re blindfolded, you don’t know who is hitting you . . . .”

  • Palestinian man, 38, from outside Daraa

“My house was destroyed. We had to move to another place. Then, three months later the shabiha [pro-government gangs] attacked.  [I] picked up a gun to defend my neighborhood. I was a civilian forced to carry arms to defend our dignity. The first time I was shot, I was hit with two bullets in the hip. I was taken to the Homs hospital, but the shabiha came to the hospital and arrested everyone who was injured.

“They took me to Military Intelligence, blindfolded, handcuffed, and put me in a small cell. I was hung from the ceiling by a chain, the shabeh torture. I can’t remember how long, I was disoriented. Five times, they applied electric shocks on my injury. Now it is all black around the bullet holes [he shows scars]. Under torture, I said what they told me to say. I said I was shot by terrorists. Military Intelligence told me, ‘You are a Palestinian, a stranger, you should not get involved.’ They jailed me for two months. I bribed my way out.”

  • Palestinian man, 32, from Karm al-Zeitoun, Homs

“Originally it was just shooting, regular bullets. Then the mortar bombs started; they would hit the roof but the people inside were OK. But then the rockets were launched, and they exploded inside the houses; many families died inside their homes. I decided to leave for the sake of my children and because we didn’t have shelter; we decided to come to Jordan.”

  • Syrian man married to Palestinian woman, 44, from Daraa governorate

“Our house was destroyed by a bomb. My son has shrapnel in his leg; my daughter has shrapnel in her arm.”

  • Palestinian woman, 35, from Al-Mzareeb, Daraa

“Many wounded from Daraa were brought to the Mahata [Palestinian refugee] camp hospital, so they [government forces] attacked us. They executed people on our street. Ahmad al Kawa, about 37, a Palestinian refugee from Mahata, was stripped and executed. His body stayed on the street for two days. Anyone who would go to retrieve it would be shot by a sniper. Also, executed on our street were Ahmad Hallafi, about 25, Ahmad Abu Hamdi, about 24, and Ahmad Muhawesh, late 30s, who was shot trying to run from his house at the end of October. In our neighborhood, we buried people in our backyards. We escaped to Yarmouk [camp in Damascus].”

  • Palestinian woman, 34, from Mahata refugee camp

Jordan’s International Legal Obligations
Nonrefoulement in refugee law is the customary international law principle that a state cannot return a refugee or asylum seeker to a country where there is a risk that his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Refugee status is declaratory – a recognition that a person meets the refugee definition, rather than a status that is conferred. As such, the fundamental principles of refugee protection apply equally to those who have not yet been formally recognized as to recognizedrefugees.

Although not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, Jordan is nevertheless bound by customary international law not to return refugees to a place where their lives or freedom would be threatened. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Executive Committee (UNHCR ExCom) – of which Jordan is a member –adopted Conclusion 25in 1982, declaring that “the principle of nonrefoulement . . . was progressively acquiring the character of a peremptory rule of international law.”

The state’s nonrefoulement obligation applies both on its territory and at its borders. In its October 2004 meeting, UNHCR’s ExCom issued Conclusion 99, which calls on states to ensure “full respect for the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement, including non-rejection at frontiers without access to fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs.” This conclusion explicitly notes that the nonrefoulement obligation applies to rejection at borders and calls for fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs. Such measures are currently lacking at the border for arrivals from Syria in Jordan, and the massive numbers arriving make individualized refugee status determinations unfeasible for the time being.

UNHCR characterizes the Syrian situation as a “massive refugee exodus.” UNHCR’s ExCom Conclusion 22of 1981 on the Protection of Asylum Seekers in Situations of Large-scale Influx – such as that from Syria at present – says:

In situations of large-scale influx, asylum seekers should be admitted to the State in which they first seek refuge and if that State is unable to admit them on a durable basis, it should always admit them at least on a temporary basis...They should be admitted without any discrimination as to race, religion, political opinion, nationality, country of origin or physical incapacity. In all cases the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement – including non-rejection at the frontier – must be scrupulously observed.

The practical consequence of the application of the principle of nonrefoulement at the border requires Jordan to allow asylum seekers who are part of a mass influx fleeing widespread human rights abuses and generalized violence to enter the country, at least temporarily, to ensure that no one is returned to persecution.

In addition to its customary international law obligations, Jordan is a party to the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, all of which contain nonrefoulement obligations, where there is a real risk that returning an individual would lead to a violation of a fundamental human rights such as torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Moreover, the government of Jordan has repeatedly agreed to uphold its obligation not to return asylum seekers. In the Memorandum of Understanding Jordan signed with UNHCR in April 1998, it agreed:

In order to safeguard the asylum institution in Jordan and to enable UNHCR to act within its mandate . . . it was agreed . . . that the principle of nonrefoulement should be respected that no refugee seeking asylum in Jordan will be returned to a country where his life or freedom could be threatened because of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

When Jordan presented its candidacy to the UN Human Rights Councilon April 20, 2006, it formally provided the United Nations with its pledges and commitments to promote and protect human rights. It said:

Over the last decades, the country has given shelter and protection to many waves of refugees; Jordan, as a long-standing host country, reiterates its commitment to fulfilling its obligations in accordance with the principles of international refugee law including those which are peremptory as well as international human rights law.

Jordan reiterated this commitment in March 2012 before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, where the Jordanian delegate is reported as saying that “although his country was not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, it had always recognized and upheld the peremptory norms of international refugee law, notably the principle of non-refoulement.”

Jordan’s statements formally recognize that refugee protection is an obligation, and that it is committed to fulfilling this obligation, which includes abiding by peremptory norms (that is, customary law). For refugees, the most fundamental of these norms is the principle of nonrefoulement.

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