IV. Refoulement—Rejections at the Border and Deportations

Jordan’s Nonrefoulement Obligations

Jordan acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) on November 13, 1991, and is bound under Article 3 of that instrument not to return or expel any persons to states where they would be in danger of being tortured.24 Jordan is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, but is nevertheless bound by customary international law not to return refugees to a place where their lives or freedom would be threatened. UNHCR’s Executive Committee—of which Jordan is a member25—adopted Conclusion 25 in 1982, which declared that “the principle of nonrefoulement…was progressively acquiring the character of a peremptory rule of international law.”26

The UN General Assembly reinforced the international consensus that the nonrefoulement obligation adheres to all states, not just signatories to the Refugee Convention, when it adopted Resolution 51/75 on August 12, 1997, which:

[c]alls upon all States to uphold asylum as an indispensable instrument for international protection of refugees and to respect scrupulously the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement, which is not subject to derogation.27

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Refugee Convention in 2001, the Declaration of States Parties to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees acknowledged “the continuing relevance and resilience of this international regime of rights and principles, including at its core the principle of nonrefoulement, whose applicability is embedded in customary international law.”28 Later that year, the UN General Assembly welcomed the Declaration.29

Jordan has explicitly pledged to uphold its nonrefoulement obligations on several formal occasions. 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 non-refoulement 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.30

When Jordan presented its candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council on April 20, 2006, it formally provided the United Nations with its pledges and commitments for the promotion and protection of 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.31

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)—the most fundamental of which for refugees is the principle of nonrefoulement. Nonetheless, Jordan violated this principle when it returned three UNHCR refugee-card holders to Iraq in 2005, as well as in many other cases (see below).32

Nonrefoulement obligation adheres to de facto refugees and at the border

Because refugee status is declaratory,33 the fundamental principles of refugee protection apply equally to de facto refugees who have not been formally recognized as de jure refugees. UNHCR’s Executive Committee reiterated that the nonrefoulement obligation equally protects de facto refugees in 1996 with Conclusion 79, which reaffirmed the principle of nonrefoulement as prohibiting the expulsion and return of refugees “whether or not they have formally been granted refugee status.”34

The principle of nonrefoulement as a customary norm of international law applies not only to de jure and de facto refugees within the territory of a state, but also to rejection of de jure and de facto refugees at the frontiers. 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.”35 (Emphasis added.) This Conclusion not only explicitly notes that the nonrefoulement obligation applies to rejection at borders, but also calls for fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs, which are also lacking for arrivals at Jordan’s borders and ports of entry.

Conclusion 99 was the last in a long series of ExCom conclusions, starting with ExCom Conclusion 6 in 1977, which “[r]eaffirms the fundamental importance of the observance of the principle of nonrefoulement—both at the border and within the territory of a State…”36 (Emphasis added.) ExCom Conclusion 22 of 1981 on the Protection of Asylum Seekers in Situations of Large-scale Influx—such as that from Iraq—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.37 (Emphasis added.)

The practical consequence of the application of the principle of nonrefoulement at the border requires that Jordan allow asylum seekers fleeing widespread human rights abuses and generalized violence (even where the influx is significant) to enter the country, at least temporarily, to be screened for refugee status, so as not to return them to persecution.

Accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch strongly suggest that many Iraqis—perhaps most—are being turned away at the border without giving them any opportunity to make refugee claims, possibly returning them to persecution. By rejecting asylum seekers at the border, Jordan breaches this international obligation.

International refugee law does not formally provide an asylum seeker (a person claiming to be a refugee) the right to enter. The refoulement prohibition, however, provides little latitude when asylum seekers appear at a land border. The conundrum of a lack of a formal right to enter combined with the prohibition against returning asylum seekers (who may, in fact, be refugees) to persecution has bedeviled many governments—Jordan is not alone in confronting the contradiction between its sovereign prerogative of who may enter and its obligation not to return refugees to persecution.  

An April 15, 2003, Letter of Understanding between UNHCR and the Jordanian government sought to solve precisely this dilemma. The two parties agreed “to provide for safe facilities for the temporary protection of beneficiaries,” while also agreeing that “the provision of temporary protection, pending a longer-term solution, does not include the possibility of local integration, assimilation or permanent residency in the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”38 As a result of this agreement, the Jordanian government agreed to erect the Ruwaishid refugee camp close to the border but within Jordanian territory in April 2003.39

International refugee law frowns upon any restrictions placed on the movements of refugees within countries of asylum. However, governments can justify some exceptions to the right of free movement for refugees on strictly necessary national security and other grounds.40 The continuing use or expansion of al-Ruwaishid camp with restrictions to refugees’ rights of movement would be one option, if Jordan could show how their movement would endanger its national security. While restricting refugees to camps is far from a desirable solution, it is preferable to pushing Iraqi asylum seekers back at the border.

Rejection at the Border

The road from Baghdad to Amman is highly dangerous. From Ramadi, about 100 kilometers west of Baghdad, there is only one road to the border, making those traveling through the desert toward Jordan an easy target for highway robbers and militants. Baghdad-Amman taxi drivers showed Human Rights Watch bullet holes in the heavy, oversized sport utility vehicles that are their preferred taxis. A driver described the route:

There are a lot of armed groups who steal, and kill people. There is a big division between Shi`a and Sunni now. If the armed group is Shi`a, they kill Sunnis, and vice versa. Two weeks ago, some people in a BMW, with weapons, stopped my car. They took us out of the car and walked us five kilometers into the desert. They stole all of the money of the passengers. They also took me into the desert. They only took our money and then went away, so we walked back to the car. There are thieves, but then there is the mujahideen [as the Iraqi insurgents are called]. The mujahideen, if they know any of your passengers are foreigners, they will take them and they will never be seen again. 41

Another driver told Human Rights Watch a similar story of being robbed, and how one of his passengers was kidnapped and held for ransom. He also compared the different tactics highway robbers and insurgents use:

The mujahideen stop us on the road and ask us if we have any foreigners, police, or National Guards. They especially want Americans. The danger of the mujahideen is less than from the thieves. But if they discover police or National Guard in my car, and I didn’t inform them, they will kill us both.42

After surviving the perilous journey from Baghdad, Iraqis face the even harder, though less dangerous, task of gaining entry to Jordan. Since the November 2005 hotel bombings, Jordan appears to be denying entry to increasing numbers of Iraqis. In interviews, taxi drivers and recent arrivals said that Jordanian border authorities are now turning back the majority of Iraqis they had witnessed seeking entry to Jordan. A taxi driver who has been plying the Baghdad-Amman route for the past six years observed, “Under Saddam, the Jordanians let all Iraqis pass, even those with fake passports. No one was turned back. Now, it is worse and worse from day to day, especially after the explosions in Amman.”43

Another taxi driver said:

We have problems at the Karama border, on the Jordanian part of the border. They don’t give us any specific reason why they turn people back; it just depends on their mood…. I transport about 25 people from Baghdad to Amman a month, but on average only five people will be allowed to enter. The others will get a stamp in their passport saying that they were returned, and then are sent back to Baghdad.44

Other taxi drivers confirmed that some Iraqis’ passports are stamped with a red stamp when they are refused entry at the border. The same taxi driver said that people who try to return to the border who have had their passports stamped are treated badly. “Sometimes they even hit them, especially the mukhabarat [intelligence] people.”45

A Washington Post report noted that Jordanian officials reject Iraqis not only at the Karama crossing, the main entry point overland from Iraq, but at every port of entry:

Jordanian border police are turning away hundreds of Iraqi vehicles daily at the Karama border crossing, often without explanation, creating a huge parking lot of frustrated travelers in the Iraqi desert. At Queen Alia International Airport, just south of Jordan’s capital, Amman, Iraqi passengers are ushered into a room and interrogated before being allowed to enter the country. And some Iraqis who used to be able to get 30-day visas to Jordan are now being allowed just to stay a few days at a time.46

The Washington Post went on to cite the Jordanian government’s spokesman, Nasir Judah, as confirming that Jordan “had imposed new border restrictions on January 2, 2006 that prohibit vehicles with Iraqi license plates from entering the country.”47e Enhanced security concerns likely account for some of the rejections and contribute to the long delays of 10 hours or more at the border crossing. A businessman from Falluja who travels frequently to Amman told Human Rights Watch, “The last time, the Jordanians searched my car and tested my hands for explosive powder. They brought a dog to search us.”48

The taxi drivers and other travelers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that border guards’ decisions regarding whom to admit or reject appear to be arbitrary, but that they turn away young men and poor people more often than others. They said the guards are more likely to admit people in need of medical care with proven appointments in Amman. Taxi drivers said that border officials are sometimes rough and rude with Iraqis but that it is impossible to get in by a bribe. One said, “At the Jordanian border, it is completely random whether they let you through. It depends on the face of the person who wants to come in and the mood of the officer.”49

Ministry of Interior officials in Amman denied that there was anything arbitrary in border rejections. Officials told Human Rights Watch that border guards turn away people if they have false passports or appear to be part of smuggling operations. The MOI secretary general said that most Iraqis trying to enter have forged passports.50

Although Human Rights Watch collected anecdotal accounts indicating that some Iraqis continue to use false passports, there are also large numbers of Iraqis traveling with valid passports. During a ten-month period between July 2005 and April 2006, the present Iraqi government issued passports to 1.85 million Iraqis.51 Although Iraqi refugees report endemic corruption in the Iraqi government’s passport-issuing authority, so that even a government-issued passport does not necessarily serve as a legitimate identification document, people fleeing persecution today have less need to use fraudulent documents than in the Ba`thist era, when the government more strictly controlled passport issuance. In any case, asylum seekers have a right to seek asylum even if they do not have proper travel documents, and should not be rejected at the border. 52

Arrests and Deportations of Iraqi Nationals

In Jordan, special police affiliated with the Ministry of Labor enforce immigration laws in the workplace while the Department of Residence and Borders in the Ministry of Interior enforces immigration laws elsewhere.53 Arrest, however, is often a matter of chance. An Iraqi Shi`a woman, who works for one of the international NGOs that provide services for Iraqis, said:

In Amman, the Wafidin [migrants’ police] roam the streets and carry out arrests. They wear civilian clothes. They make ‘mercy’ exceptions; if someone in the police or other ministry knows or likes you, you can avoid arrest or get out once arrested. The police know who to arrest by their faces and rarely go after well-dressed people.54

Although those slated for deportation have a right under Jordanian law to appeal an administrative order of deportation within 60 days, in practice deportation orders are rarely appealed.55 MOI officials say that they allow any Iraqi facing deportation to go to Syria or Yemen, which do not require visas from Iraqis, and that most Iraqis in that situation exercise this option rather than go back to Iraq.56

Deportation procedures for Iraqis are swift. Iraqis interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the police authorities wait until they have enough Iraqi overstayers to fill a bus. They said that a bus of deportees travels from Amman to the land border nearly every day since the hotel bombings,57 an observation confirmed by a diplomatic source and a legal service provider.58

Jordanian authorities hold illegal Iraqi overstayers from a few days up to a week in deportation centers, such as Gwesmah in Jabal Habib, or in Markaz al-`Asima, after apprehending them. Gwesmah holds only about a dozen people at a time, according to an employee of the government-appointed National Center for Human Rights, who said that the place was clean and that the kind and amount of food there appeared sufficient: “There were no problems there, except that they were being deported.”59 Iraqis confirmed to Human Rights Watch that police usually escort detainees to their apartments to gather their possessions before deportation.

Jordanian officials exercise a high degree of discretion when deporting Iraqis; this results in highly inconsistent practices. For example, Jordanian officials put different color stamps in deportees’ passports, each meant to indicate a different time limit on re-entry, with no explanation and no discernable connection between the color of the stamp and the duration of the bar on re-entry. Those who receive a red, triangular stamp in their passport are barred from re-entry.60 Some Iraqis said border guards told them this stamp means a lifetime exclusion, but others say it signifies a bar for five years.  Authorities allow some deportees to pay the accrued fines equivalent to US$2 per day and avoid deportation. They allow others to pay the fines and avoid the red exclusion stamps when they are deported, theoretically allowing them the opportunity to re-enter the country.

Iraqi de jure and de facto refugees in Jordan fall into four categories:

1. UNHCR-recognized refugees;

2. Asylum seeker card holders under UNHCR’s temporary protection regime;

3. Persons UNHCR rejected as refugees prior to 2003, but whose need for at least temporary protection may have changed because of the war; and

4. Persons who have not approached UNHCR, but who fled persecution or generalized violence.

Although circumstances among these categories vary, as outlined below, they all lack a secure legal status in Jordan, live on the margins, and fear being forcibly returned to Iraq.

UNHCR-recognized refugees

UNHCR-recognized refugees do not have any particular status under Jordanian law and in particular do not acquire rights, even temporarily, of residency or the right to work. Instead they are supposed to await resettlement in a third country. However, Jordan does not automatically deport UNHCR-recognized refugees if they are apprehended for working or residing in Jordan illegally, but instead gives them four options:

1. They can depart voluntarily (which is not a realistic option for UNHCR-recognized refugees);

2. They can stay in jail until UNHCR finds a durable solution on their behalf (the usual practice for those who have committed a serious crime or those whom the authorities consider to be a danger to the security of Jordan);

3. They can be released without conditions (the usual practice for those who were not caught working illegally, but who only overstayed their residency visas); or

4. They can be required to find a Jordanian sponsor who will guarantee their departure from Jordan as a condition for release (the usual practice for those caught working illegally or committing a minor crime).61

In all four cases the authorities formally issue a deportation decision and require the detainee to agree formally to leave the country as a condition for release from detention, though the authorities, in practice, do not necessarily require return to the home country. In practice, if UNHCR issues a letter on the refugee’s behalf the authorities do not execute the deportation order, but use it as a means of keeping pressure on UNHCR to find a country willing to resettle the refugee.62 Under the fourth option, Jordanian sponsors relinquish their identity documents to the arresting authority as a condition for the Iraqi’s release. They are permitted to retrieve their IDs when they can verify the departure of the Iraqi refugee or find another sponsor to assume responsibility for the refugee.63 Jordanian sponsors have been able to retrieve their identity documents by establishing that the Iraqi refugee had paid the accrued fines (which implicitly suggests that the refugee left the country since many pay their fines when exiting).64 In some cases, however, the Jordanian sponsorship, in effect, serves as a mechanism for posting (and jumping) bail.

Human Rights Watch collected the names of 29 UNHCR refugee-card holders who had been paroled from detention after Jordanian sponsors provided guarantees on their behalf, often in return for money. In response to written questions by Human Rights Watch, eight of those former detainees described their arrest and release.65 Jordanian police arrested them between February 2005 and April 2006 and detained them from two days to 24 days before releasing them, after Jordanian sponsors came forward on their behalf. The other 21 only gave their names and refugee-card numbers but did not fill out the questionnaire, fearing repercussions. “There are tens of refugees who were afraid to fill out, feeling afraid that some unknown thing would happen to them,” said the refugee who collected the information for Human Rights Watch. “There are also a lot of the refugees who are still in prison and some who had been taken out of Jordan.”66

Despite UNHCR’s objections the Jordanian authorities deported three UNHCR-recognized refugees to Iraq in 2005; one had a criminal conviction and the other two were alleged to have committed crimes but had not been convicted.67 Such returns constitute refoulement, a breach of Jordan’s international obligations.

Asylum-seeker card holders under UNHCR’s temporary protection regime

The UNHCR card for asylum seekers, issued as part of its temporary protection regime, offers little protection against deportation and no other benefits. Jordanian policy is to notify UNHCR when its law-enforcement officials detain asylum-seeker card holders on immigration violations and to allow UNHCR staff to visit them in the detention centers to conduct refugee status determinations. In fact, UNHCR conducted almost all of its RSDs in 2005 with people in detention.68 The refugee agency intervened on behalf of 191 detained asylum-seeker card-holders in 2005. During that year Jordan deported 121 Iraqis who had held asylum-seeker cards but whom UNHCR rejected as refugees according to the 1951 Refugee Convention refugee definition.69 UNHCR recognized 22 Iraqis as refugees in 2005.70

This raises immediate questions about the thoroughness of the RSDs and the refugee-definition standards on which they are based, the right to appeal negative UNHCR decisions, other due process rights that might be compromised in a detention setting, and, most obviously, the meaning and value of a supposed temporary protection regime that fails to protect everyone—including rejected asylum seekers—from deportation based on conditions of generalized violence. Rejected asylum seekers are subject to deportation, though UNHCR informs anyone whose application has been rejected that they may appeal the refugee agency’s rejection of their refugee claims. In most cases detained asylum seekers do appeal UNHCR’s first-instance rejection of their claims, according to UNHCR, and their deportations are suspended while the appeals are pending (though they remain in detention).71

Under normal circumstances rejected asylum seekers are no longer of concern to UNHCR, and their deportation would not raise protection concerns. Under a temporary protection regime, however, all nationals of the country experiencing warfare or generalized violence should fall under UNHCR’s protection, even those who do not meet the 1951 Refugee Convention refugee definition. After UNHCR rejects a detained Iraqi asylum seeker, it sends the following letter to the Jordanian authorities:

UNHCR’s position on the return of rejected Iraqis from Jordan is guided by the international legal principles governing its protection mandate, taking into consideration the situation of the concerned individuals as well as the cooperation of the Jordanian and Iraqi authorities. Within this context, UNHCR seeks the cooperation of the Jordanian authorities, as it has requested the cooperation of other States, in continuing to extend flexibility in allowing even rejected asylum seekers to remain in Jordan until such time as the security situation in Iraq has improved and the concerned individuals can be returned to Iraq at no security risk.72

That Jordan nevertheless deported 121 rejected asylum seekers in 2005 shows that it was not inclined to heed UNHCR’s request to show flexibility. Despite the temporary protection regime, UNHCR does not regard these forced returns as refoulement and did not consider them as “people of concern” (a wider formulation that UNHCR sometimes uses) at the time they were deported.73 UNHCR’s position is inconsistent; it has called for a TPR “for all Iraqis” without distinction,74 yet reveals a critical blind spot with respect to Iraqis who actually sought refugee-status protection but whom UNHCR found not to meet the 1951 Refugee Convention definition. Human Rights Watch regards the forced return of such Iraqis as refoulement because they sought protection in Jordan and because of the high level of risk of serious harm they face upon being forcibly returned to Iraq.

In practice even the asylum-seeker card’s supposed limited protection of a guaranteed UNHCR refugee-status interview had broken down by the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit. In one case a Shi`a woman from Najaf told Human Rights Watch that in March 2005, Jordanian authorities deported her husband, who had overstayed his visa and was working illegally, despite his UNHCR card:

He was arrested in Aqaba while he was working on a job site. They directly deported him. They told him, “You are a guest and you know the law. The law prevents you from working.” He couldn’t afford to pay the [residency fines]. He showed them the UN card, and they said it means nothing. When he was deported, they stamped his passport so he can’t come back for five years. Even after five years, they won’t allow him to go back to Jordan—when they see the stamp, they exclude you.75

While this man had committed a violation of Jordanian law by working without a permit, international law—the principle of nonrefoulement—nevertheless protects him from being returned to Iraq should he face there the likelihood of persecution, torture, or other serious harm. Since returning to Iraq, the wife said that her husband has been injured in a terrorist attack and suffered a heart attack. The authorities failed to respect the fact that he was carrying a UNHCR card, and thus clearly committed refoulement when they forcibly returned him to Iraq.

Persons UNHCR rejected as refugees prior to 2003, but whose need for at least temporary protection may have changed because of the war

Jordan regards asylum seekers who sought recognition as refugees with UNHCR during the Saddam Hussein era but who at the time were rejected as illegal aliens as subject to deportation, even though the circumstances in Iraq have changed and they may now be seriously harmed if returned. Despite proclaiming a blanket temporary protection regime UNHCR has refused to issue asylum-seeker cards intended to provide temporary protection to previously rejected asylum seekers, even though they now have the same needs for temporary protection as other de facto refugees living in Jordan.76  

Formerly rejected refugee claimants have lived in Jordan for many years, and many have experienced various forms of hardship. A Shi`a man from Missan Governorate told Human Rights Watch about his separation from his wife and children. He said that he fled Iraq in 1998 after the government executed five of his relatives. He said that UNHCR rejected his refugee claim and that his family had been accruing large overstayer fines ever since his visa expired. Because UNHCR had rejected his refugee claim and closed his case, he was not eligible for an asylum-seeker card when UNHCR instituted its temporary protection regime in 2003. Faced with the possibility that the Jordanian authorities might arrest, detain, and deport his wife and five children, he decided to send them back to Iraq but felt that it would be too risky for him to return with them. The Jordanian border officials stamped their passports with red exclusion stamps. He does not know when he will see them again. “We are like prisoners of war,” he told Human Rights Watch. “If I go to the border, I can’t come back.” Similarly, because of their exclusion stamps, his wife and children cannot come and visit him in Jordan. 77

A 58-year-old Shi`a man, who told Human Rights Watch Iraqi officials had arrested him three times in the 1980s for his communist activities, said that UNHCR rejected his refugee claim in 2001 and closed his case. He said that the UNHCR office has repeatedly turned him away since the war began, and seven months ago (well within the time frame of the temporary protection regime) took away his old asylum-seeker card, leaving him with nothing to show the police if he is arrested for overstaying his visa.78

An Assyrian79 Christian woman who has lived in Jordan since 1995 told Human Rights Watch of her increasingly desperate attempts to find temporary protection for her family after UNHCR rejected her husband’s refugee claim in 1998. She said that her husband had been a member of an Assyrian political party, whom Ba`th Party officials had arrested and tortured, leaving him permanently handicapped. Despite his disability Iraq conscripted him into its military forces, from which he deserted—a capital offense. They arrived in Jordan in 1995 after Turkish and Syrian border guards had refused them entry at their respective borders. Jordanian police arrested her son in 1999 while walking on the street and jailed him for 13 days in the Zuhar police department for juveniles. “We went to UNHCR to ask for help to take him out of jail, but they said that the file was closed.”80 The police used her detained son as bait to apprehend the rest of the family, and they were all deported to Syria later that year. The family found that they could not earn enough to live in Syria; the mother and children returned to Jordan shortly after being deported, but her husband remained in Syria for more than a year before rejoining them in Jordan. Jordanian police apprehended her again in late 1999. She paid the fine for overstaying her visa and went to Lebanon as part of a tourist group for three days to renew her Jordanian visa for another six months.

After the war began and UNHCR started the temporary protection regime, this woman was able to get a UNHCR asylum-seeker card in her name that includes her children but excludes her husband. He therefore is denied whatever protection UNHCR might be able to provide under the TPR to asylum-card holders. The family lives in constant fear of deportation. “For eleven years my children did not go to school. My daughter worked in a picture studio, but one of her co-workers grew jealous of her and said she would call the police and report her for working illegally if she didn’t quit. We are now too afraid to work.” She added, “I would never ever consider going back to Iraq.”81  

Persons who have not approached UNHCR, but who fled persecution or generalized violence

Most deportees carry neither UNHCR refugee nor asylum-seeker cards, but may well have justified claims to refugee status based on their experiences in Iraq. Human Rights Watch interviewed an Assyrian Christian woman from Mosul whose husband was deported from Jordan on September 25, 2005. Jordanian police arrested him at a restaurant after a policeman apparently randomly asked him for his ID and found him to be without documents. His wife had his passport at home. She took the passport to UNHCR and told them her story of having fled Iraq (she had worked in a beauty salon, said something negative about the government one day during the Ba`thist era, and a customer reported her to the security forces, who falsely accused her of being a spy). She asked UNHCR to intervene on behalf of her husband. After the Jordanian police had detained her husband, she said that they requested his passport as part of the deportation process. She asked UNHCR to take the passport to the police station at al-Ashrafiya and to visit her husband there. She not only wanted UNHCR’s intervention on behalf of her husband, but was afraid to take the passport to the police herself since she was also a visa overstayer: “I was afraid I would be deported too.” She met with UNHCR. “I told them our story,” she said. “He was still in the police department. I was crying.” She said that UNHCR would not visit her husband while he was detained pending deportation because he had not previously registered with them. “They told me to calm down. They wouldn’t take his passport. They were not interested to help.”82

Four days after her husband’s deportation, UNHCR gave the woman an asylum-seeker card. “I need to go to the market to do the things my husband used to do. People make comments. They insinuate things.” She has spoken to her husband by phone. “He said that someone wrote on the church door ‘Death to Christians.’ My husband told me he is afraid to leave the house. He doesn’t work. He told me not to come back.”  

Human Rights Watch contacted two Iraqis recently deported from Jordan to Iraq. Neither person had registered a refugee claim with UNHCR in Jordan, but one of the two, a young woman working as a translator in Baghdad’s Green Zone, said she fled to Jordan because she had received death threats.83 She fled Iraq in September 2005 after an Iraqi National Guardsman at a checkpoint close to the Green Zone told her, “We know you are a translator for the Americans. We know who all the translators are.” She told Human Rights Watch that she asked for protection after Jordanian intelligence arrested her and began proceedings to deport her.

The intelligence officers arrested her at the airport in Amman on November 18, 2005 (within two weeks of the hotel bombings), when she went to pick up an American friend. She had just extended her visa the day before and was legally in Jordan. Intelligence officers interrogated her and five other Iraqis who had come to pick up people at the airport that day. They accused her of carrying a false passport and said she was also involved in “carrying out the explosions.” She was transferred to the women’s section of the Nadhala Prison in Juwaida. At the prison, guards denied her permission to make a phone call. She asked for a lawyer, but they denied her request. She then tried to make a refugee claim, telling her jailers that she had worked for U.S. companies and the U.S. military in Baghdad and had been threatened. “That is not our problem,” she was told. She was deported on November 27. Human Rights Watch spoke to her by telephone in Baghdad. She left soon thereafter for Egypt.84

The second deportee, a young man, also gave good reasons for fleeing Iraq but said that Jordanian police did not provide him any opportunity to explain his circumstances or to seek protection.85 Unknown assailants killed two of his nieces in Iraq for their alleged collaboration with the Americans.86 He is engaged to an American citizen and had an appointment pending with the U.S. consular section in Amman at the time the police arrested him, on April 16, 2006. The young man said he had gone to the airport to drop off his uncle, who was flying to the United States, but police stopped and detained him at the checkpoint on the airport road. He spent three days in detention, during which time he made desperate calls to his family members asking for wasta (intervention by people with connections in government). At the time of his arrest he had overstayed his visa by about three months. He had been in Jordan for one year, renewing his visas by exiting and re-entering Jordan. The last time he went to renew his visa, however, the Jordanians at the Syrian border only gave him a three-day visa. He quickly became an overstayer.

In a telephone interview with Human Rights Watch from Mosul, Iraq, the young deportee said he begged the intelligence officers to let him pay the JD130 fine, but they refused. He recalled, “There was no questioning. They only said, ‘You will be deported.’ They did not ask me if I was afraid to return to Iraq.” He said that he had not known that there was such a thing as a UNHCR asylum-seeker card. Military guards took him by bus to the border with about 40 other persons. They let them off at the Karama-Trebil crossing, in the middle of nowhere. He had to find a taxi to Baghdad and from there make his way back to his home in Mosul. He said that he has no job and no money, and that he has lost his visa appointment with the U.S. consular section in Amman and does not know if he can submit a U.S. visa application in Baghdad.87

24 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, art. 3. For a complete listing of states party to the Convention Against Torture, see (accessed June 28, 2006).

25 ExCom membership does not require accession to the Refugee Convention or Protocol, but requires only a “demonstrated interest and devotion to the solution of refugee problems” and membership in the United Nations or its specialized agencies. UNHCR, “How to apply for ExCom membership,” (accessed October 17, 2006). Jordan joined the ExCom in 2006.

26 UNHCR Conclusion 25 (XXXIII), “General Conclusion on International Protection,” October 20, 1982, (accessed October 17, 2006), para. (b). More recent ExCom conclusions have reaffirmed this principle, including Conclusion 79 (XLVII), “General Conclusion on International Protection,” October 11, 1996, (accessed October 17, 2006), para. (j) and Conclusion 81 (XLVIII), “General Conclusion on International Protection,” October 17, 1997, (accessed October 17, 2006), para. (i).

27 UN General Assembly Resolution 51/75, A/RES/51/75, 12 February 1997, para. 3.

28 Declaration of States Parties to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Ministerial Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, December 12-13, 2001, UN doc. HCR/MMSP/2001/09, 16 Jan. 2002, para. 4.

29 UN General Assembly Resolution 57/187, A/RES/57/187, December 18, 2001, para. 4.

30 Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Jordan and UNHCR, April 1998, art 2 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

31 “Jordan’s Pledges and Commitments Pursuant to Resolution A/RES/60/251,” Reference No. SH/1/A/660/06, New York, April 20, 2006.

32 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, July 27, 2006.

33 UNHCR, Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, reedited January 1992, Geneva, para. 28. See text at footnote 1.

34 UNHCR Conclusion 79 (XLVII), “General Conclusion on International Protection,” October 11, 1996, (accessed October 17, 2006), para. (j).

35 UNHCR Conclusion 99 (LV), “General Conclusion on International Protection,” October 8, 2004, (accessed October 17, 2006), para. (l).

36 UNHCR Conclusion 6 (XXVIII), “Non-Refoulement,” October 12, 1977, (accessed October 17, 2006), para. (c).

37 UNHCR Conclusion 22 (XXXII), “Protection of Asylum-Seekers in Situations of Large-Scale Influx,” October 21, 1981,, para. II.A. 2. Several international declarations and conventions reiterate that the principle of nonrefoulement applies at borders. Article III of the Declaration on Territorial Asylum, passed unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 1967 declares that no refugee “shall be subjected to measures such as rejection at the frontier…” United Nations Declaration on Territorial Asylum, December 14, 1967, G.A. res. 2312 (XXII), 22 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 81, U.N. Doc. A/6716 (1967), art. 3, para. 1. Although the Middle East has no regional refugee instrument, other world regions have bound themselves to this principle. In Africa, the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention, Article II (3) provides: “No person shall be subjected by a Member State to measures such as rejection at the frontier, return or expulsion, which would compel him to return to or remain in a territory where his life, physical integrity or liberty would be threatened…” Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa,1001 U.N.T.S. 45, entered into force June 20, 1974, art. II, para.3.  In the Cartagena Declaration in 1984, ten Latin American states declared their commitment to “the principle of nonrefoulement (including the prohibition of rejection at the frontier) as a corner-stone of the international protection of refugees…[that] should be acknowledged and observed as a rule of jus cogens.”  Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, November 22, 1984, OAS Doc. OEA/Serv.L/V/II.66/doc.10, rev.1 (1984-85), at section III, para. 5. (Emphasis added throughout.)

37 UNHCR Conclusion 22, para. II.A.1.

38 Letter of Understanding between the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Office of UNHCR, art. 2, paras. 2 and 3, April 15, 2003 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

39 See UNHCR and Temporary Protection and Palestinians at al-Ruwaishid Camp and Iranian Kurds, below.

40 Refugee Convention, art. 31.2.

41 Human Rights Watch interview (P-NR-2), Amman, May 2, 2006. (The coding of interviews in this paper identifies the Human Rights Watch researcher and the interview subject. The notation “NR” indicates that the person interviewed was not a refugee.)

42 Human Rights Watch interview (P-NR-3), Amman, May 2, 2006.

43 Human Rights Watch interview (C-NR-1), Amman, April 24, 2006.

44 Human Rights Watch interview (P-NR-2), Amman, May 2, 2006.

45 Ibid.

46 Jackie Spinner, “Iraqis Find Travel to Jordan Increasingly Frustrating,” Washington Post, January 17, 2006, at A14.

47 Ibid.

48 Human Rights Watch interview (P-NR-1), Amman, April 22, 2006.

49 Human Rights Watch interview (C-NR-1), Amman, April 24, 2006.

50 Human Rights Watch interview with Mukhaimar F. Abu Jamous, Secretary-General, Ministry of Interior, and staff, Amman, May 4, 2006.

51 Sabrina Tavernise, “As Death Stalks Iraq, Middle Class Exodus Begins,” New York Times, May 19, 2006.

52 Article 14 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 says that “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted December 10, 1948, G.A. Res. 217A(III), U.N. Doc. A/810 at 71 (1948). The United Nations ExCOM Conclusion No 82 “reaffirms that the institution of asylum …derives directly from the right to seek and enjoy asylum set out in Article 14(1).” UNHCR Conclusion 82 (XLVIII), “Safeguarding Asylum,” October 17, 1997, (accessed October 17, 2006), para. (b). Also, Article 29(h) of Jordan’s Law No. 24 of 1973 on Residence and Foreigners’ Affairs, as amended by Law No. 23 of 1987 (“Residence and Foreigners’ Affairs Law”), recognizes “the right to political asylum” See (accessed July 5, 2006). Article 31 (1) of the Refugee Convention bars contracting states from imposing penalties on refugees “on account of their illegal entry of presence” who come directly from a territory where there life or freedom is threatened.

53 Human Rights Watch interview with Mukhaimar F. Abu Jamous, Secretary-General, Ministry of Interior, and staff, Amman, May 4, 2006.

54 Human Rights Watch interview (C-35), Amman, April 23, 2006.

55 Email from UNHCR to Human Rights Watch, July 27, 2006.

56 Ibid. It appears, however, that Yemen does require visas for Iraqis to enter the country (see Visa Requirements, at, accessed July 14, 2006). See also, The Response of Yemen and Egypt, below.

57 Human Rights Watch telephone interview (C-25) with deportee in Baghdad, November 30, 2005, in which the deportee cites an officer in charge of the Residence and Borders Office at the Nadhala Prison as giving this information. Other testimonies, including Human Rights Watch interviews (P-12), (C-13), (C-17), and (B-31), confirm these accounts.

58 This was confirmed in “off the record” interviews with a nongovernmental service provider, Amman, May 4, 2005, and a diplomatic official, Amman, May 3, 2006.

59 Human Rights Watch interview with National Center for Human Rights representative, Amman, May 3, 2006.

60 Residence and Foreigners’ Affairs Law, art. 37.

61 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, August 28, 2006

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.

64 Email from Iraqi refugee (C-27) to Human Rights Watch, May 22, 2006.

65 On file with Human Rights Watch.

66 Email from Iraqi refugee (C-27) to Human Rights Watch, May 22, 2006.

67 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, July 27, 2006.

68 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, May 24, 2006.

69 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, July 30, 2006.

70 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, May 24, 2006.

71 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, July 27 and July 30, 2006.

72 Email from UNHCR-Amman to Human Rights Watch, July 30, 2006.

73 Ibid.

74 UNHCR, Country Operations Plan, Jordan, Planning Year: 2006, Revision September 2005, part 1.

75 Human Rights Watch interview (P-14), Amman, April 27, 2006.

76 See UNHCR and Temporary Protection, below, to see the benefit of possessing an “asylum seeker” card.

77 Human Rights Watch interview (P-5), Karak, April 23, 2006.

78 Human Rights Watch interview (B-1), Amman, April 25, 2006.

79 Assyrians are Christians who define themselves as a distinct Semitic people who claim 1.5 million members in Iraq. See, (accessed July 29, 2006).

80 Human Rights Watch interview (B-6), Amman, April 27, 2006.

81 Ibid.

82 Human Rights Watch interview (B-31), Amman, May 3, 2006.

83 Human Rights Watch telephone interview (C-25), Baghdad, November 30, 2005

84 Ibid.

85 Human Rights Watch interview (C-7), Amman, April 24, 2006.

86 Human Rights Watch interview (C-3), Amman, April 24, 2006, said this as background regarding C-7.

87 Human Rights Watch telephone interview (C-17), Mosul, May 16, 2006.