Growing Restrictions, Tough Conditions: The Plight of Those Fleeing Syria To Jordan

October 30, 2013

Growing Restrictions, Tough Conditions: The Plight of Those Fleeing Syria To Jordan

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Almost one third of Syria's population have fled their homes. More than 2 million are refugees living outside Syria – mostly in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt – and 4.25 million individuals are displaced internally in Syria. They have fled widespread violence and human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The number of people fleeing Syria has soared this year. Over 1 million people fled in the first five months of 2013 alone. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres, said in July: "Two-thirds of [the refugees from Syria] have fled Syria since the beginning of this year, an average of over 6,000 people a day. We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago." In the case of Jordan, the main focus of this report, the number of refugees from Syria who have entered its territory has risen from 1,000 in September 2011 to 90,000 in September 2012 to over 500,000 in September 2013.

Jordan has made considerable efforts to accommodate half a million refugees from Syria and this has clearly put significant strains on the country at large. However, Amnesty International is concerned that the Jordanian authorities are imposing undue restrictions on access to the country to people fleeing Syria and violating international law by forcibly returning refugees from Jordan. The organization's research shows that Palestinian refugees from Syria are particularly vulnerable to these practices and many of them are arbitrarily detained at a facility known as Cyber City. They also often receive less assistance than Syrian refugees.

Amnesty International has looked closely at the challenges faced by refugees in Jordan and, in particular, those in Za'atri camp, the largest for refugees from Syria in Jordan. It has investigated how the refugees have to contend not only with harsh desert-like living conditions but also high levels of criminality and other security-related fears that has led, for instance, to many women and girls being afraid to use the camp's toilets at night. It describes how the Jordanian authorities' temporary retention of their identity documents has meant that refugees have been unable to register their marriages and the births of their children. Other concerns include the fact that most refugee children are not going to school and that people have to walk kilometres to access health and other services.

Other neighbouring countries, in particular Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, have similarly received large numbers of refugees from Syria and face major challenges to adequately protect and support them. Lebanon hosts the most refugees from Syria of any country and has generally demonstrated favourable policies towards them, but since August 2013 it has managed its border more tightly and many people seeking to flee Syria have not been permitted to enter. Since mid-2012, Turkey has blocked thousands of individuals fleeing Syria from entering Turkey, especially those without a passport or an urgent medical need, leaving many displaced on the Syrian side of the border. Iraq has repeatedly closed its borders to people fleeing Syria. Since July 2013 Egypt has both arrested and deported hundreds of refugees from Syria, many of them for trying to leave the country illegally after a shift in the political climate in Egypt against them. Outside the region, too, refugees from Syria have been subjected to abuse, including collective expulsions from Greece and ill-treatment from officials.