Sudanese asylum seekers wait to find out where they will be sent after being bused from camp in front of UNHCR to area near airport on December 16, 2015

© 2015 Private

(Amman) – Jordanian authorities on December 16, 2015, detained and said they will deport about 800 Sudanese asylum seekers back to Sudan. The vast majority of Sudanese in Jordan come from the Darfur region and fled to Jordan to escape ongoing conflict there.

Sudanese lying on ground reportedly after skirmishes with the police in area near airport on December 16, 2015.

© 2015 Private

Jordanian authorities stand around Sudanese asylum seekers near airport on December 16, 2015.

© 2015 Private

Deporting refugees violates the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement, which forbids governments from returning people to places where they risk being persecuted, tortured, or exposed to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Jordan’s government spokesperson told the Associated Press that the group numbered 800, and that “asylum conditions don't apply to [Sudanese]” because they entered Jordan under the pretext of seeking medical treatment.

“There is no excuse for Jordan to deport vulnerable asylum seekers back to Sudan, regardless of how they entered the country,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Jordan should not punish these Sudanese merely because they protested for better conditions and for resettlement consideration.”

Police on December 16 rounded up the Sudanese, including men, women, and children, at a camp erected on November 15 in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Amman. The Sudanese were protesting what they viewed as discrimination in provision of humanitarian assistance and resettlement services.

An “official source” was quoted in media reports as saying that Jordanian police detained around 750 Sudanese men and women from the protest camp in front of the UNHCR office and transported them to Queen Alia International Airport to process them for deportation. Several Sudanese men in the group told Human Rights Watch that all Sudanese in the group are registered with UNHCR as asylum seekers or refugees.

An international journalist who went to the airport said she saw 30 to 40 children among the Sudanese set for deportation.

Three Sudanese asylum seekers told Human Rights Watch by phone that dozens of Jordanian police arrived with around 14 buses at about 4 a.m. on December 16, and ushered all the Sudanese from their protest camp tents into the buses. The buses transported the Sudanese to an area near Queen Ali International Airport, 30 kilometers south of Amman.

The men said that after the buses arrived near the airport, the authorities held the Sudanese in the buses for at least three hours. Around 10:30 a.m., they said, authorities drove them further into the airport grounds, took them off the buses, and tried to separate them into those who had passports and those who did not.

One Sudanese man said that when Jordanian police tried to take passports from the Sudanese, skirmishes broke out between police and several asylum seekers who did not cooperate. During the call, a Human Rights Watch researcher heard shouts and screams. The Sudanese man said that he saw several Sudanese men lying injured on the ground, and videos circulated by Sudanese showed at least four people on the ground.

According to UNHCR, about 4,000 Sudanese asylum seekers are in Jordan. Sudanese asylum seekers told the Jordan Times on December 3 that they believe their resettlement files are being placed at a lower processing priority than refugees from other countries, and that Sudanese children are out of school because the Education Ministry is not providing an automatic waiver on school fees for many groups of refugees this year as it had in previous years.

UNHCR has denied any discrimination in its dealings with refugees in Jordan. UNHCR’s representative in Jordan, Andrew Harper, told the Jordan Times: “[W]e are processing Sudanese [refugees] more than any other group of refugees and they have a great resettlement program.”

Sudanese refugees told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority in Jordan come from war-torn areas such as Darfur in western Sudan. Over the past 18 months in Darfur, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a new Sudanese special force under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), has committed war crimes and other abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity during two counterinsurgency campaigns. The level of violence in Darfur in recent months is comparable to the peak of the conflict, in 2004. Government forces including the RSF have systematically burned and looted villages, raped untold numbers of women, and killed those who resisted their attacks.

While not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, Jordan is nevertheless bound by the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement, whether the person seeking asylum has been officially registered or not.

“Jordanian authorities should focus on ensuring the protection and well-being of this vulnerable group of Sudanese instead of trying to deport them,” Stork said.