Azraq refugee camp in Jordan
Azraq refugee camp in Jordan

There are currently thousands of refugees in the Kingdom of Jordan, many of whom are from Syria. How does Jordan measure up as a country of refuge?

There are currently 661, 114 registered Syrian refugees but over 1.4 million Syrians living in the country. That means 50 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan are unregistered. There are five Syrian refugee camps in Jordan yet only 10 percent of Syrian refugees live in the camps. Most of the refugees live in various communities around Jordan. According to the World Bank, Syrian refugees cost Jordan 2.6 billion dollars a year, which is six percent of Jordan's GDP.

One such camp is the Zaatari camp, which is located near the Syrian border. The camp has over 100,000 residents and has become the fourth largest "city" in the Kingdom. It is severely overcrowded and plagued by a lack of supplies. Despite some enterprising refugees opening their own businesses, such as bakeries, cafes and cell phone shops, crime rates are high. Human Rights Watch has identified crimes in the camp, such as prostitution, drug dealing and the recruitment of child soldiers for the Syrian civil war.

Other Syrian refugee camps include Azraq which is located to the west of a city of the same name and has over 35,000 refugees. The Mrajeeb Al Fhood camp is funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hadallat and Rukban. Of the 5 camps in Jordan, 3 are permanent, while the rest of them are temporary.

There are also Iraqi refugees in Jordan, but Jordan treats the Iraqis as "guests" according to the UNHCR. Iraqis have an unclear legal status and are seen by the Jordanian government as temporary and likely to go back to Iraq. Their legal status makes it difficult for them to work. Most of the Iraqis in Jordan came during the Iraq war in 2003, but some have since come to Jordan as a result of the so-called "IS"  or "Islamic State" terrorist insurgency that began in 2014.  


Under its resettlement program, the UNHCR works with Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have already received asylum in Jordan to transfer them to third countries, such as the US, Australia, Canada or the European Union. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Jordan works directly with the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) to process refugees to bring people to the United States.

Syrian refugees deported from Jordan

Despite the IOM and UNHCR's resettlement programs, a recent HRW report has documented the systematic return of Syrian refugees by the Jordanian authorities. HRW has called for an increase in international aid to Jordan to assist in resettling greater numbers of Syrian refugees.

The 27-page report is titled "'I have no Idea Why They Sent Us Back': Jordanian Deportations and Expulsions of Syrian Refugees," and shows that Jordanian authorities have deported about 400 registered Syrian refugees each month, while around 300 registered refugees returned to Syria voluntarily per month during that time.

"Jordan shouldn't be sending people back to Syria without making sure they will not face a real risk of torture or serious harm, and unless they have had a fair opportunity to plead their case for protection," Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch said. "But Jordan has collectively expelled groups of refugees, denied people suspected of security violations due process, and ignored the real threats deportees face upon return to Syria."

HRW interviewed 13 Syrians by telephone whom the Jordanian authorities had recently deported to Syria. HRW concluded from the interviews that those who had been deported were given little information about why they had been expelled, and did not get any real chance to appeal or seek legal advice. According to the Arab Charter of Human Rights, Jordan is prohibited from carrying out collective expulsions "under all circumstances." 

HRW also noted that collective expulsions increased in mid-2016 and again at the beginning of 2017. The spike in deportations followed 2 terrorist attacks in the country, despite there being no eveidence that any of the deportees were involved.


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