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.
The content of this report relating to Jordan is largely based on a research visit to the country in June 2013. The Amnesty International delegation met with representatives of the Jordanian authorities, UN agencies, international humanitarian agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities, as well as more than 150 refugees from Syria in refugee camps and in host communities. Previous research missions to Jordan were carried out in February 2012 and July 2012. Amnesty International delegates have also carried out field research on issues related to refugees from Syria in other neighbouring countries: Lebanon in April 2011 and February 2013; Turkey in June 2011, February 2013 and April 2013; and Egypt in May 2013 and October 2013. The June 2013 visit to Jordan was followed up by further research and interviews conducted from London. Amnesty International sent memorandums containing its preliminary findings to both the Jordanian authorities and UNHCR in Jordan. UNHCR responded with a letter, aspects of which Amnesty International has reflected in this report, but no response had been received from the Jordanian authorities at the time of publication.
Amnesty International is publishing this report to draw attention to the difficulties faced by people from Syria as they flee their country in search of safety. While the report mainly focuses on the situation in Jordan, it also updates information the organization has previously published on the challenges facing refugees from Syria in other neighbouring countries and further afield. The organization is therefore calling upon the Jordanian authorities, as well as those of all other neighbouring countries, to keep their borders open to all persons fleeing the conflict in Syria, without discrimination, and ensure full access to their territories and to safety. Jordan and other neighbouring countries must also ensure that no persons fleeing Syria are forcibly removed to Syria, in any manner whatsoever, including through removal, rejection at the border, expulsion or deportation. These countries must also refrain from arbitrarily detaining refugees from Syria and ensure that no refugees are subjected to restrictions which violate their right to freedom of movement.
The organization is similarly calling upon the international community to do all it can to ensure that the affected neighbouring countries are adequately supported. Countries with the means to do so should provide urgent financial and technical support to assist them in providing protection to all those refugees from Syria who need it, and in particular to provide urgent and meaningful financial contribution to the UN Syria Regional Response Plan. Countries should also offer a generous number of emergency resettlement places, over and above annual resettlement quotas, to vulnerable refugees who have fled Syria and are currently in neighbouring countries. They should similarly recognize that anyone fleeing Syria should be considered in need of international protection and continue to suspend, in line with UNHCR recommendations, all returns to Syria and its neighbouring countries until the country's security and human rights situation has sufficiently improved to permit safe, dignified and sustainable return.