Jordan regularly deported Iraqis it caught overstaying their visas, generally after detaining them for up to a week. Buses holding up to 40 Iraqi deportees arrived at the border weekly, amounting to as many as 100 deportations monthly. The General Intelligence Department increasingly targeted Iraqi Shi'a for deportation.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could not screen these deportees, despite its 1998 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Jordanian Government against refoulement. The Ministry of the Interior allowed Iraqis to choose deportation to Syria or Yemen if they feared returning to Iraq, which most did. Although deportees had the right to appeal within 60 days of the order, few did so.
If UNHCR was aware of a recognized refugee among the deportees, Jordan would delay the deportation until UNHCR found a resettlement country willing to accept the deportee. This occurred in at least two cases, when Jordan gave UNHCR 24-hour deadlines to find alternative solutions for refugees, and it was able to do so. Jordanian border guards increasingly turned back Iraqis, especially younger men and those who appeared to be poor. They also turned back those they accused of carrying false passports or being part of smuggling operations.
Jordan continued to deny entry to a group of 190 Iranian Kurdish refugees who tried to leave Iraq in 2005. The Kurds camped in the no-man's-land between the Iraqi and Jordanian checkpoints at the border, and crossed into Jordan to protest their situation several times. Jordan also denied entry to a group of 250 Palestinians who attempted to flee Iraq. In May, Syria agreed to accept them.
Jordan was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees but its 1952 Constitution prohibited extradition of "political refugees ... on account of their political beliefs or for their defense of liberty." According to the 1998 MOU, asylum seekers could remain in Jordan pending status determination, and UNHCR-recognized refugees could remain six months after recognition, during which time UNHCR had to find resettlement countries for them. This was not always possible, but the Government generally did not deport them. Of the 700,000 Iraqis in Jordan, only 22,000 had registered as asylum seekers by early 2007. UNHCR hoped to register another 38,000 by the end of 2007.
In early 2007, UNHCR began registering Iraqis as refugees, in preparation for their resettlement. The refugee documents it issued expressly stated that they do not grant legal residence or permission to work.
While most Palestinians in Jordan were citizens, some 162,500 Palestinian who fled from the Gaza Strip in 1967 did not qualify for citizenship and received only two-year passports. More than 800 refugees from Iraq, Russia, and Syria awaited resettlement and the Government allowed about 100 Chechens to remain indefinitely pending repatriation.
Detention/Access to Courts
Jordan detained between five and 15 Iraqis registered with UNHCR and many more without UNHCR papers monthly during 2006. Typically, police arrested Iraqis for crimes including attempting religious conversions or for unspecified security reasons. Jordan increasingly targeted Shi'a Iraqis for arrest on these charges.
Jordan released recognized refugees on the recognizance of a Jordanian sponsor if they had committed only a minor offense such as working illegally. It generally released without condition those who had merely overstayed their visas.
The 1952 Constitution promised all persons protection from arbitrary detention or imprisonment, but refugees and asylum seekers could not challenge administrative detention in court, and bail was only available in court-ordered detentions with judges' discretion. The Constitution reserved to nationals the right to equal treatment before the law, but the MOU and Jordanian law provided for refugees' and asylum seekers' access to courts and legal assistance on par with nationals. Few asylum seekers availed themselves of this because of their lack of legal residence.
Although UNHCR continued to issue documentation to Iraqi asylum seekers, the police did not respect such documents. Palestinians displaced from Gaza in 1967 held temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers, which were valid for two years.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Jordan kept more than 100 mostly Palestinian refugees confined in Ruweished camp, guarded by border police. It permitted them to leave for medical appointments with a police escort, and a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization, ran a daily shuttle to a nearby market. Other refugees were not subject to such restrictions, but, under the 1973 Residence and Foreigner's Act, all foreigners had to notify the authorities of their residence and any movement.
About 328,000 Palestinians (including Jordanian citizens of Palestinian descent) also lived in camps throughout the country. More than 50 squatter settlements in mostly urban areas housed some 60,000 to 70,000 Palestinians ineligible for status with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), including some of the former Gazan population.
Gazans held temporary Jordanian passports renewable every two years, as well as cards for crossing between the East and West Bank, subject to Israeli closures and other restrictions. The Government refused to renew the passports of some 10,000 to 12,000 Palestinian former residents at its embassies outside the country for failure to prove such former residence.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
It was difficult for refugees with residence permits to work legally and virtually impossible for those without them, including many asylum seekers. The 1952 Constitution reserved to citizens its right to work. The 1996 Labor Law required non-Jordanians with legal residency and valid passports to obtain work permits from the Ministry of Labor showing that the job required experience or skills unavailable among Jordanians, with preference to Arabs but no exceptions for refugees and asylum seekers. The law required employers to pay a fee, and the permits were valid for one year or less, but were renewable. Violators were subject to cumulative fines and expulsion of the foreign worker at the employer's expense.
All bearers of temporary passports, including Palestinians displaced from Gaza since 1967, had to obtain permits to work legally. Palestinian refugees holding temporary Jordanian passports could work for the Government only on a contractual basis.
Jordanian law did not permit foreigners to join unions, but its labor laws did generally apply to non-citizens. Access to social security benefits depended on reciprocal privileges in the worker's country of origin, rendering stateless Palestinians ineligible.
The MOU with UNHCR provided that a legally resident refugee could work "for his own account whenever the Laws and regulations permit" and conditioned the right to practice professions on the same requirements.
According to Jordan's Investment Promotion Law, foreigners could not own more than a half-interest in enterprises in mining, trade and retail, and construction contracting. Temporary passport holders had to obtain ministerial permission and find a Jordanian partner to own property. Although the 1952 Constitution protected the property of all persons from arbitrary expropriation or confiscation, few refugees took advantage of these restricted rights largely due to their lack of residence status.
Public Relief and Education
Jordan did not aid refugees and asylum seekers but UNHCR, UNRWA, national institutions, and NGOs did and had free access to do so.
The 1952 Constitution reserved the right to free primary education to nationals. The Government issued a series of contradictory statements as to whether it would allow the children of foreigners without residency to attend public schools. Many school officials were unsure if they could allow Iraqi children to enroll and often told Iraqi parents that they had to notify the Government when refugee children enrolled. As a result, most parents kept their children out of the public schools. During the 2005-06 school year, some 60,000 Iraqi children attended Jordanian schools. For 2006-07, this dropped to 15,000 of the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Iraqi children in the country.
Palestinians from Gaza holding temporary Jordanian passports had to pay school fees in foreign currency where applicable and a fee for medical services. Public hospitals and health centers treated patients regardless of status, but non-Jordanians paid higher fees than citizens did. Palestinians displaced from Gaza since 1967 did not enjoy social security benefits, medical services, public education, or other social services that Palestinian citizens of Jordan enjoyed. UNRWA operated 24 medical clinics inside and outside of the refugee camps.
Children of Palestinians from Gaza holding temporary Jordanian passports could enroll in Jordanian schools. Additionally, UNRWA operated 180 schools and two vocational training centers for Palestinian refugees. Universities, however, restricted foreign students with quotas and required them to pay twice as much as Jordanians.
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.