Danish Immigration Service: Report on roving attaché mission to Jordan (12 to 15 June 2000)


Background to the mission

The number of Iraqis seeking asylum in Denmark has been on the increase in recent years. Some of the Iraqis leaving Iraq have used Jordan as a country of transit. There are an estimated 200 000 to 500 000 Iraqi nationals living in Jordan.

In order to look into matters relating to Iraqi nationals' residence status in Jordan and Iraqi certificates, the Danish Immigration Service carried out a roving attaché mission to the country, in conjunction with Department E of the National Police Commissioner's Office. Meetings were held in the Jordanian capital, Amman, from 12 to 15 June 2000.


The main sources drawn upon in this report are local authorities or organisations and international organisations present in Amman.

As a number of sources did not wish to be quoted in the mission report or were only willing to comment anonymously, some of the sources have not been identified. The identity of the sources consulted is known to the Danish Immigration Service.

1. Iraqi nationals' residence status in Jordan and related matters


Jordan has a population of about 4,9 million. With the inclusion of foreign workers, the country has over 6 million inhabitants. Various sources put the number of Iraqi nationals living in Jordan at from 200 000 to 500 000. The country has a foreign workforce equal in size to its domestic workforce. Owing to unemployment, Jordan has gradually been taking a more restrictive attitude towards the presence of foreign workers. There are some 1,5 million foreign workers living in Jordan, coming mainly from Egypt, Syria and Iraq, with around 90% of them working illegally without holding work permits or residence permits.

Entry and exit

Hani Daleh, a lawyer from the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, explained that there are two possible ways of entering Jordan from Iraq. Iraqis can travel to Jordan without requiring a visa. The first possibility is thus to enter the country legally, on a passport, the second being to cross the border between Iraq and Jordan illegally. In both cases it is common for Iraqi entrants to stay in Jordan for quite some while, often without any residence permit.

Hani Daleh stated that it is possible to leave Iraq illegally, but he thought there to be few cases of illegal entry into Jordan from Iraq. The number of Iraqis travelling to Jordan has fallen as a result of the exit fee, currently - in mid-2000 - standing at a very high level. An NGO representative reported that Iraqi nationals are charged an exit fee of 400 000 Iraqi dinars (USD 130 to 300, depending on the exchange rate, and in mid-2000 about USD 200).

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Amman considered European countries to have concentrated heavily on Turkey as a country of transit for Iraqi nationals on their way from Iraq to Europe, while Jordan may play a more important transit role in such traffic. Jordan represents the only official point of entry and exit linking Iraq with the rest of the world. Borders with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are tightly guarded, with less close an eye kept on the border between Jordan and Iraq.

An NGO representative reported that the Iraqi authorities have to be bribed before a passport will be issued. It is possible to bribe a way out of Iraq without being recorded on computer at the Iraqi-Jordanian border, even for people on the Iraqi regime's "death list". The source added that Iraqis pass through Jordan en route for Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand and that Assyrians from northern Iraq have headed in droves for Sweden in particular.

Georgette Hoshe, representing the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), explained that Iraqi women are not allowed to leave Iraq unless accompanied by a male relative, whether this be their husband, brother or father. An Iraqi woman unable to leave the country with a male relative has to obtain a false passport showing her, for instance, to be married to the man accompanying her out of Iraq. According to the source, the Jordanian authorities take a not unsympathetic view of the use of false passports by women in that position.

Over the last few years, the IOM has recorded from three to five people a year wanting to return home to Iraq via Jordan. Such cases involve older people, issued a transit permit by Jordan. The IOM arranges for them to travel to Baghdad and they themselves then organise the rest of the journey to their place of residence.

Randa Habib, a correspondent for Agence France Presse (AFP), who chairs the foreign press club in Jordan, commented that Iraqis employed by the Iraqi authorities cannot leave Iraq, taking their family with them. She had often asked Iraqis wanting to return to Iraq why they chose to go back. The answer was usually that they still had their family in Iraq.

Residence in Jordan by Iraqis

A number of sources explained that, on entering Jordan, Iraqi nationals are issued a visa for a fortnight and have to report to the Jordanian police within that time. They can apply for a three-month residence permit, renewable for another three months, thus giving them a total stay in Jordan of six months and 14 days. The three-month residence permit and any three-month extension are stamped in their passport. Should that period be overstayed, a fine of one dinar a day is payable until such time as they leave the country, with the cumulative fine being collected upon departure. Many Iraqis leave Jordan illegally so as to avoid paying the fine.

In the UNHCR's view, many Iraqi nationals at some point end up staying in Jordan illegally. As a result of a shared history, the notion of Arab brotherhood and understanding for Iraqis' awkward predicament, their presence in Jordan is tolerated. Such tolerance is on the wane, however, with a growing number of Iraqis now leaving Jordan. Randa Habib (AFP and chair of the foreign press club in Jordan) confirmed that the extensive sympathy shown Iraqis in Jordan for long years has dwindled.

The UNHCR reported the enactment in 1974 of a law requiring anyone illegally living in Jordan to leave the country. Not until 1 April 1999 did the Jordanian authorities begin to some extent enforcing that legislation.

An NGO representative explained that the Jordanian population and the Jordanian authorities have long tolerated the presence of Iraqi nationals in Jordan. Iraqi nationals could live in Jordan for years, without any difficulty. Generally speaking, Iraqis can still stay in Jordan for as long as they like. They may experience problems, however, if their residence permit has expired and they come into contact with the Jordanian authorities.

According to one source, the expulsion from Jordan of illegal workers is approached in a very rough and ready way. Round-ups are carried out, in which people without a residence permit are arrested for living in Jordan illegally. Officially, only criminals are forcibly expelled, with no other deportations taking place. In most cases, Iraqi nationals are dumped at the border just before the Iraqi checkpoint.

An NGO representative reported scope for taking up lawful residence in Jordan. A one-year residence permit is obtainable on two conditions. Firstly, applicants have to be able to show that they have money in the bank or business interests in Jordan. The amount required used to be USD 20 000. Secondly, the Civil Investigation Department (CID) has to advise the Ministry of the Interior to issue a residence permit. The permit is valid for a year at a time and may be renewed.

A Jordanian official source explained that a one-year Jordanian residence permit can be issued to Iraqi nationals if they have been granted a work permit or are investors. They can become investors by starting up a business project, for instance. They are not required to put up any set sum. Prior to 1 April 2000 it was necessary to put up a set sum, but the rules were often circumvented. The source could not say how many Iraqis have been issued one-year residence permits.

According to the same source, an Iraqi national holding a residence permit who has left Jordan may return to the country within six months. After that time, the permit is automatically withdrawn. The Iraqi national can still reapply for a residence permit in the normal way.

Hani Daleh (Arab Organisation for Human Rights) reported that, in order to take up employment in Jordan, it is necessary to hold a work permit issued by the Ministry of Employment and an employment contract from the employer. Foreigners in Jordan usually work as domestic staff or farm labourers.

Hani Daleh believed there to be only 3 000 to 4 000 Iraqis legally living in Jordan.

Availability to Iraqis of housing, education and medical care in Jordan

Randa Habib (AFP) explained that Iraqis often have a hard time of it in Jordan. Iraqi nationals not in possession of a residence permit are afraid of attracting the Jordanian authorities' attention and therefore keep a low profile.

According to Randa Habib, it is possible for Iraqi nationals to send their children to privately run schools in Jordan, but private schools come very expensive. In some cases, Iraqis may be able to have their children admitted to state schools. However, state schools do not admit very many Iraqi children, while children of Iraqi Christians will not be admitted at all.

Hani Daleh (Arab Organisation for Human Rights) reported that Iraqi nationals in some cases resort to crime merely so as to be sent to prison and thus be fed and have a roof over their heads.

An NGO representative explained that only Iraqi nationals lawfully holding a one-year residence permit can have their children admitted to a Jordanian school. Jordanian private schools admit only a very small proportion of Iraqi children and state schools do not admit Iraqi children to any great extent either. The same source estimated that some schools admit Iraqi children making up not more than 5% to 10% of their total pupils.

The source also estimated that 80% of Iraqis living in Jordan receive money from relatives. Such resources are often inadequate to support them, however, leaving Iraqis no option but to work illegally, which may risk getting them into trouble with the Jordanian authorities.

Randa Habib reported that Iraqis have to pay for their own health care in Jordan, which can be difficult as it is very expensive. An operation, for instance, may cost five months' pay.

As regards solidarity and networking among Iraqis in Jordan, according to Randa Habib, they live together, stick together and help one another at family level. She reported that Iraqis living in Jordan on a permanent residence permit do not lend a hand in assisting and supporting Iraqis living there illegally. She was also aware of Iraqi Christians sticking together and supporting one another. The Jordanian Christian Church helps Iraqi Christians as well.

UNHCR asylum processing of Iraqi nationals living in Jordan

The UNHCR reported that Iraqis applying to it for asylum have often been living in Jordan for some while. They do not approach the UNHCR immediately on arriving from Iraq, but only once their six-month residence permit has expired.

Around 30 people a day seek protection from the UNHCR. Some 10 000 applications a year are received, most of them from Iraqi nationals. The UNHCR currently has a backlog of 4 000 applications. It produces identity papers, containing biographical data, names and photographs, which are issued by the UNHCR but printed by the Jordanian police. There are two types of UNHCR papers: an asylum application certificate for registered asylum seekers and a refugee certificate for recognised refugees. Refugee certificate holders are not subject to Jordanian immigration legislation.

The UNHCR's recognition rate for Iraqis stands at around 12%. In the view of the UNHCR in Amman, should the sanctions against Iraq be removed, a large proportion of Iraqis would want to return to Iraq.

The UNHCR explained that Iraqi refugees recognised as such by the UNHCR do not risk being detained if they come into contact with the Jordanian authorities. Registered asylum seekers living in the country illegally who are intercepted by the Jordanian authorities do, however, risk detention. Should processing of Iraqi nationals' applications for UNHCR protection result in rejection, they risk being expelled to Iraq. The UNHCR finds itself under pressure from the Jordanian authorities to deal with cases as soon as possible, ideally within three months. It tries to persuade the Jordanian government to release any registered asylum seekers detained and allow it more time to process their cases. The UNHCR added that recognised refugees and registered asylum seekers are not expelled.

Asylum applicants have a chance to appeal against the decision reached. In the event of any material change in an applicant's situation or of significant fresh information coming to light, cases may be reopened.

Scope for residence in Jordan by Iraqi nationals recognised as refugees by the UNHCR

Iraqi refugees recognised as such by the UNHCR are only allowed to stay in Jordan with a view to resettlement in another country. Georgette Hoshe (IOM) reported that Iraqis recognised as refugees by the UNHCR may live in Jordan for years, awaiting resettlement.

According to the UNHCR, very few recognised refugees have spent longer than two years in Jordan. Some 1 000 a year are resettled, with 1 200 at any time awaiting resettlement.

Risk of refugees or asylum seekers being sent back ("refoulement")

The UNHCR explained that recognised refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR are not sent back, adding that no recognised refugees have been deported. It considered there to be a high degree of certainty that asylum applicants would not be deported. Should this happen, it would arise from a mistake. The possibility of it cannot be ruled out in cases in which the Jordanian authorities are not yet aware of registration with the UNHCR. If an Iraqi national is registered as an asylum seeker with the UNHCR, any expulsion is deferred until it has processed the application. Where Iraqi asylum seekers' applications to the UNHCR are rejected, they have one month in which to arrange to leave for another country, if they do not want to return to Iraq. Only those whose asylum applications have been finally rejected risk being deported, although there are Iraqi nationals who have had their asylum applications finally rejected but not been deported.

Expulsion of Iraqi nationals

A Jordanian official source stated that no Iraqis are deported to Iraq. The Jordanian authorities do, however, invite Iraqi nationals to leave the country within a set time. The authorities may, where appropriate, exempt them from payment of the fine of one dinar per day in excess of the six-month time limit.

Hani Daleh, of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, on the other hand, reported that the authorities transport Iraqi nationals to the border, where they are handed over to the Iraqi police. He had cases involving over 100 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers in danger of being expelled.

According to Hani Daleh, Iraqis not legally resident in Jordan are expelled within 24 to 36 hours of being apprehended. If the Arab Organisation for Human Rights is informed, it does its best to have their stay extended until they are able to leave for another country, possibly Yemen or Australia. In some cases, the Jordanian authorities set a time limit of up to seven months within which to leave the country.

Hani Daleh reckoned from 30 to 50 Iraqis a month to be expelled. All Iraqi nationals not legally resident in the country risk expulsion. On receiving a deportation case, he refers it to the Jordanian authorities in an attempt to obtain a lawful residence status for the person concerned. If the Jordanian authorities agree to this, they usually issue a three-month residence permit.

Hani Daleh knew of two or three cases of people being deported to Iraq. As regards Iraqis returning to Iraq, to his knowledge, one person had been imprisoned and there were rumours, among Iraqis in Jordan, of returning Iraqis being executed.

Randa Habib (AFP) reported that a brother of Lutayyif Yahya al-Salihi, who bears a resemblance to Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, was sent back to Iraq on 29 August 1999 by the Jordanian authorities. The case has attracted attention, since Lutayyif Yahya al-Salihi used to act as a stand-in for Uday Hussein, but later escaped from Iraq and published a book about his experiences. He has not heard from his brother since he was sent back to Iraq. The brother is said to have disappeared following his return there. Randa Habib added that there are instances of the Jordanian authorities announcing that they have allowed Iraqis to leave for Syria, whereas they subsequently turn out to have been expelled to Iraq.

She explained that the Jordanian authorities began deporting Iraqis in the spring of 1999, although she did not know of any recent expulsions of Iraqi nationals.

Jordan as a first country of asylum

Jordan is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention, but in 1998 the UNHCR and Jordan concluded a memorandum of understanding, thereby ensuring that the UNHCR can perform the protection role assigned it.

Representatives of the Jordanian authorities told the Danish delegation that Iraqi nationals will not be shown any special consideration, even if they have established long-standing, close ties with Jordan. The Jordanian authorities thus cannot agree to Jordan serving as a first country of asylum for such people.

It was impossible to ascertain how many Iraqi nationals have been sent back to Iraq, partly because they can be expelled by a number of different Jordanian authorities. The delegation was nevertheless told that the number is not large, in proportion to the many Iraqi nationals to be found in Jordan.

Attitude of the Jordanian authorities towards Immigration Service processing of family reunification applications from Iraqi nationals living in Jordan without a valid residence permit

According to a Jordanian official source, should Iraqi nationals have an application for a visa or for family reunification pending in, say, Denmark, it will be possible to extend their Jordanian residence permit if they can show by means of a letter that their case is still under consideration. The permit can be extended for not more than a further two months. The source observed that some countries take a very long time to process cases, but saw no difficulties as regards Denmark. The UNHCR reported that cases involving Iraqi nationals are normally referred to it. Where the UNHCR grants protection, the residence permit extension problem does not arise.

2. Iraqi certificates

Matrimonial deeds and marriage certificates

An NGO representative explained that the religious courts in Iraq have traditionally been responsible for issuing matrimonial documents. In order to tighten up their control of Iraqi society, the government authorities require all documents to be registered with the authorities. There should thus properly be both a marriage certificate issued by religious authorities and a document issued by a government authority (court of law). In practice, however, according to the same source, a document issued by a religious authority will suffice for recognition of a marriage.

The source went on to say that marriages are first registered with the various faiths' religious institutions, e.g. churches, and then with the Iraqi authorities.

A couple are officially recognised as married so long as they have been wedded in a religious ceremony. Official confirmation is required, however, if the couple want to be issued any official documents. There is no time limit for official registration of the religious wedding and years may elapse between the religious ceremony and application for official confirmation of the marriage.

Only if a marriage contracted conflicts with Iraqi civil law can it not be registered. This may be the case, for instance, if at the time of marriage the woman is under 18 years of age, that being the minimum age for marriage under Iraqi civil law.

Where a man has more than one wife, each separate marriage has the same legal validity as a monogamous marriage.

According to the same source, people can be married and divorced only by religious institutions. A non-religious marriage contracted by two Iraqi nationals outside Iraq is not recognised by the Iraqi authorities.

Religious institutions in northern Iraq have their headquarters in Baghdad, from where they are run. Marriages contracted in northern Iraq are legally valid throughout Iraq.

The procedure for divorce is the same as for marriage. The divorce is first registered with the relevant religious institution and then with the Iraqi authorities.

The same source explained that, in the Middle East generally, Christians do not require any intervening period between divorce and remarriage. Muslims, on the other hand, require an intervening period of three months between divorce and remarriage, so as to ascertain whether the woman is pregnant.


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