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(Amman) – Jordan refuses entry to or forcibly deports Palestinian refugees escaping Syria, in clear breach of its international obligations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Jordan has officially banned entry to Palestinians from Syria since January 2013 and has forcibly deported over 100 who managed to enter the country since mid-2012, including women and children.

The 44-page report, “Not Welcome: Jordan’s Treatment of Palestinians Escaping Syria,” 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.

“The plight of the Palestinians is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about because everyone is already under such a burden to meet the needs of refugees from Syria,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “But no refugees fleeing the violence in Syria – Syrians and Palestinians alike – should be denied entry and forced back against their will.”

Most of Syria’s neighboring countries have also placed entry restrictions on Palestinians from Syria, leaving thousands stuck and facing great dangers. The Jordanian government should urgently rescind its ban on Palestinian refugees and end deportations of Palestinians from Syria, Human Rights Watch said.

Jordanian security forces have turned away Palestinians who seek to enter Jordan from Syria at the country’s borders since mid-2012 and the government announced its official non-admittance policy in January 2013. Security forces also detain and deport Palestinians who enter at unofficial border crossings using forged Syrian identity documents, or who enter illegally via smuggling networks. Officially, Jordan allows Palestinians from Syria who hold Jordanian citizenship to enter, but in practice Jordan has denied entry to such Palestinians whose Jordanian documents have expired, in some cases arbitrarily stripping them of their Jordanian citizenship and forcibly returning them to Syria.

Jordanian security services have detained and forcibly returned over 100 Palestinians to Syria since the beginning of 2013, according to the Syria Needs Analysis Project (SNAP), a nongovernmental monitoring group. In its February 2013 Syria Crisis Response Annual Report, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, said it had documented numerous cases of Palestinians forcibly returned to Syria from Jordan, including women and children.

Human Rights Watch documented Jordan’s forcible deportation 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 in northern Jordan. In the deportation cases, Jordanian authorities separated and deported Palestinian men from their families, in some cases leaving the families without their primary source of income.

Sana, an elderly Palestinian woman, described how Jordanian authorities hastily deported her son-in-law Mohammed and his brother in late 2013 after catching Mohammed working illegally, selling vegetables from a cart in Irbid. She said both brothers had entered Jordan with their Syrian wives using forged Syrian family books and registered with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, under false names. 

Sana, a Jordanian citizen, went to the police station after she found out about her son-in-law’s arrest two days later. ”They told me to come back the next day,” she said. “They said they would find a solution for us. Mohammed called me an hour later from Syria.”

The deportations violate Jordan’s international obligation of nonrefoulement, the prohibition in international law on returning refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened, or the return of anyone to the risk of torture.

Fayez Tarawneh, head of the royal court and former prime minister, defended the non-admittance policy in a meeting with Human Rights Watch in May 2013, saying a large influx of Palestinians from Syria would alter the demographic balance of the kingdom and cause instability. At least half the population of Jordan is believed to be of Palestinian origin. Tarawneh said he doubted that Jordan would be able legally to deport the Palestinians – a stateless group – to Syria once the conflict there has concluded if they were allowed refuge in Jordan.

In spite of Jordan’s non-admittance policy, as of July 2014, over 14,000 Palestinians from Syria had sought support from UNRWA in Jordan since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Only 1,300 of them had entered Jordan lawfully before authorities began the pushbacks of Palestinians at the border. Most came 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 experienced intense fighting.

As a result of the Jordanian government’s policy, many Palestinians from Syria do not have proper residency papers in Jordan, making them vulnerable to exploitation, arrest, and deportation. Undocumented Palestinians from Syria dare not seek protection or redress from the Jordanian government against exploitation or other abuses. They cannot legally live in the official refugee camps established for Syrians, but cannot legally work to earn money for renting housing outside the camps.

Donor countries and local and international aid agencies have not adequately addressed the humanitarian concerns facing the Palestinians, and few provide them with any humanitarian assistance. The 2014 Syria Regional Response Plan’s section on Jordan excludes Palestinians. The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), the local coordination mechanism for aid agencies working on the Syria refugee response in Jordan chaired by UNHCR, does not discuss issues relating to Palestinians from Syria.

International donors and aid agencies should work together to ensure that Palestinians from Syria receive humanitarian aid and protection support on a par with services offered to Syrian nationals in Jordan, Human Rights Watch said.

International donors should also step up assistance to Jordan and humanitarian agencies working on the Syria crisis. The UNHCR Jordan office, which coordinates the refugee response, has raised only 36 percent of its US$1 billion budget goal for 2014. UNHCR-Lebanon’s funding gap is even higher, with 71 percent of its 2014 budget unfunded.

Other than Turkey, all of Syria’s neighbors have placed onerous restrictions on entry for Palestinians fleeing Syria. All neighboring countries should respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to seek safety and asylum outside Syria as long as they face insecurity and persecution there.

Countries outside the region should provide financial assistance to countries that take Palestinian refugees from Syria and should consider accepting vulnerable Palestinian refugees for temporary humanitarian resettlement. Palestinian refugees should not have to forfeit their right of return by accepting an offer of temporary resettlement in a third country.

“Jordan and Lebanon should not be abandoned to bear the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis without adequate support,” Houry said. “International donors should step up aid to all countries sheltering Syrian refugees and encourage them to scrap entry restrictions for Palestinians.”

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