Syrians Fleeing Violence Are Turned Back at Jordanian Border

Press Release
October 31, 2013

Syrians Fleeing Violence Are Turned Back at Jordanian Border

Those Who Make It Into the Country Face Deportation Once They Arrive

Contact: Carol Gregory, cgregory@aiusa.org, 202-675-8759, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Hundreds of Syrians fleeing the violence and turmoil at home are being turned back by Jordan and other neighboring countries, Amnesty International said today in a new report that calls for urgent international support to increase humanitarian aid and resettlement to deal with the massive influx.

The 38-page report,Growing Restrictions, Tough Conditions, highlights the increasing difficulties Syrians face escaping to Jordan and other countries. Scores have been forcibly deported back to Syria. In some cases, even those allowed to stay struggle to obtain basic needs like clean drinking water and medical care. Women were fearful of sexual violence and harassment.

Border restrictions imposed by the Jordanian authorities, combined with fighting in border areas have left thousands of displaced people indefinitely trapped near the border with Jordan. Families told Amnesty International that they were turned back by Jordanian border officials. One woman, with six children, said their passports were stamped "return within one month." She said that she and her children were forced to sleep on the road near the border with about 100 other families. They struggled to survive by eating whatever fruit they could find on nearby trees. After one month of waiting they were still denied entry and were forced to return to a nearby Syrian town.

Despite statements by the authorities that the Jordanian border has remained open to Syrians fleeing the conflict, Amnesty International found that at least four categories of people are being denied access to Jordan. These include Palestinian refugees from Syria, people lacking identity documents, Iraqi refugees living in Syria and unaccompanied men with no demonstrable family ties in Jordan.

More than two million refugees have fled Syria, sparking the worst humanitarian crisis of this decade. Most have found refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. In addition, at least 4.25 million people are displaced inside Syria.

"The influx of refugees has placed an enormous strain on countries in the region," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director of the Middle East and North Africa. "Their resources are understandably stretched. However, this should not be used as an excuse for denying people entry or forcibly returning people to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria."

"It is unacceptable that scores of people from Syria, including families with small children seeking refuge from the fighting, are being denied admission by neighbouring countries," said Luther. "Many of them have already lost everything. Amnesty International urges neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to all individuals fleeing the conflict in Syria. It is also calling on the international community to step up its efforts to help them do so."

Immediate action is needed to avert a worsening crisis, including more humanitarian aid and support for resettlement by the international community, Amnesty said, noting that so far countries in the region are shouldering the burden of Syria's refugees with minimal resources.

Even those who have been granted entry to Jordan face forced deportation as an additional risk. The Jordanian authorities told Amnesty International that they would not return anyone to Syria. However, in August 2012, some 200 refugees were deported back to Syria by the authorities after protests broke out at Za'atri refugee camp. Information obtained by the organization indicates that scores of other individuals have since been returned.

"Refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria are entitled to international protection," said Luther. "Forcibly returning such individuals to Syria is an appalling violation of human rights standards."

Conditions are harsh at Za'atri, the largest refugee camp in Jordan hosting some 120,000 Syrian refugees, and residents told Amnesty International that basic services like clean drinking water and security were challenges, along with high levels of criminality in the camp.

Only half of the children eligible for school were registered to attend formal education in the camp. Amnesty International met a number of children as young as 12 at the camp who were working to support their families and did not attend school.

Women and girls at Za'atri also said they live in fear of sexual violence or harassment. Many said they were too scared to go to the toilets alone at night for fear of being harassed. Doctors said women at the camp were increasingly developing urinary tract infections from frequently restraining themselves from using the toilets for long periods.

Others reported being approached by Jordanian men looking for "brides." When prospective brides are young and there may be a perception that as refugees they have an inferior status, ensuing marriages, some of which may be temporary, can place the women at risk of exploitation.

Refugees outside of Za'atri camp also live in precarious conditions.

"The situation for women and children is particularly difficult," said Luther. "Refugees who have fled bombing and shelling must not now continue to live in fear lacking access to the most basic of services they need to live a normal life."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.