Palestinian Refugees From Syria Face Harsh Conditions in Jordan

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Palestinians residing in war-torn Syria have been fleeing in growing numbers to Jordan, where officials are assigning them to camps set apart from other Syrian refugees, Tamer Samadi reports. Some of these camps have previously been criticized by human rights groups.

High-level Jordanian official sources expressed their concern to Al-Hayat over the massive displacement of Palestinian refugees from Syria. In parallel, Jordanian relief sources revealed that some 200 Palestinian refugees with Syrian identification documents have fled the isolated camp in the border town of al-Ramtha in northern Jordan.

The sources said that meetings are ongoing between government institutions to discuss the rapidly evolving developments along the Jordanian-Syrian border and to discuss how to deal with any unexpected displacement of Palestinians from Syria.

Jordanian authorities are in contact with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to discuss establishing temporary camps to house Palestinian refugees once they cross the Jordanian border, while the government insists on separating them from Syrian refugees.

Jordan prefers to move Palestinian refugees outside of the kingdom, fearing that opening camps on Jordanian territory would lead to a massive migration of Palestinians from Syria.

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Government spokesman Samih Maaitah did not hide Jordan’s concern regarding larger waves of displaced Palestinians coming to Jordan, due to the current violence in Syria.

While inspecting the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in the border town of Mafraq, Interior Minister Ghaleb Zubi told Al-Hayat that Jordan “will not deal with Palestinians fleeing from Syria as refugees,” adding that “these brothers were forced to leave due to the developments in Syria. They are refugees in other countries ... but we will deal with them as guests only.” The minister affirmed that a decision had been made to separate Palestinians with Syrian identification documents from Syrian refugees, for reasons he did not explain. Zubi clarified that “this category resides in a building just for them in al-Ramtha” adding that “in case their numbers increase, alternative, but temporary, housing will be provided.”

Relief sources revealed that some Palestinian refugees have fled from Syria to the Zaatari camp, which is only supposed to house Syrian refugees.

Sources working in the camps said that while crossing the border, these Palestinian refugees told the Jordanian authorities that they were Syrian citizens who had lost their identification documents. They did this in order to avoid being moved to camps for Palestine refugees, which are suffering from harsh living conditions,  according to Jordanian and international relief organizations.

Ziad Hamad, president of Jordan’s Kitab wal Sunna charity organization — which provides services to tens of thousands of Syrians — said that some 200 Palestinian refugees have fled from sites set up for them in al-Ramtha. 

Al-Hayat tried to get a response from Jordan’s Public Security Directorate regarding those who have fled, but to no avail.

Hammad revealed details of a meeting that took place between a number of government institutions and relief organizations. He said “we were told that the government fears that a half-million Palestinian refugees have fled to Jordan,” adding that “we are providing services to some 500 Palestinian refugees residing in the Cyber City compound that the government set aside to receive them. We are currently seeking, in consultation with the responsible parties, to conduct maintenance work at the compound and expand the living spaces, in order to reduce overcrowding in these rooms.”

A Palestinian refugee, during a phone call from his residence at the compound, said that hundreds of Palestinian refugees are suffering from harsh living conditions inside the compound. He explained that “they are not allowed to leave and others are not allowed to visit them,” while another female refugee said that the situation inside the compound is “very bad ... like a detention center.” She added that the size of a room for a Palestinian family is 2 square meters (6.5 square feet), and the rooms are uninhabitable due to mold and moisture. Moreover, the bathrooms are shared and totally unusable.”

However, a Jordanian government official said Jordan “is providing assistance to Palestinian and Syrian refugees according to its available capabilities and capacities.”

The Cyber City compound was previously criticized by US human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, when East Asian migrant workers were living there. This criticism resulted in an uproar that caused the United States to stop importing products from factories employing these workers.

The plight of the Palestinian refugees coming from Syria brings to mind the situation of Palestinians who fled Iraq following the US invasion. Some 300 Palestinian refugees remained for years in the desert separating Jordan from Iraq before they were moved to Brazil.

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