Nidal, a 36-year-old Palestinian, has been stranded in a Syrian village near the Jordanian border with four of his siblings since February. Jordan deported them, confiscating their identity documents, leaving them no option but to stay in a conflict zone. They rely on the charity of local residents to survive.
"I need my ID back so I can at least go further into Syria," he told Human Rights Watch by telephone in May. "I'm completely lost."
Nidal is one of many affected by Jordan's non-admission policy for Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria. Jordan turns away Palestinians at the country's borders and detains and deports Palestinians who manage to get in. We have documented 16 of these forcible deportations, and research by other groups indicates the number is well over 100, among them women and children.
Those deported face incredible risks. Some, like Nidal, are left without the option of fleeing anywhere else. These deportations violate Jordan's obligation of nonrefoulement, the international norm that prohibits the forced return of refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
Although Nidal is a lifetime resident of Syria and was born in Syria, he had Jordanian citizenship as his father had been nationalized by Jordan along with all Palestinians in Jordan and the West Bank following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. He maintained his Jordanian identity documents, including a birth certificate and passport. He and his family, who had lived in a Damascus suburb that was attacked by government forces, escaped to Jordan as the Syrian conflict escalated.
When Nidal and his siblings attempted to renew their documents in Amman, the authorities treated them like other Palestinians from Syria, despite their citizenship, referring them to the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), Jordan's intelligence service. GID promptly detained them, told them their citizenship had been revoked, and deported them.
Palestinians like Nidal face an uncertain future. In addition to generalized violence across the country, both government and opposition forces have targeted them. The Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, the center of Palestinian life in Syria prior to the conflict, has been largely reduced to rubble after an 18-month government siege.
Omar, a Palestinian from Syria who smuggled himself across the border to Jordan in 2013 and is in hiding, said he would do anything to avoid going back. Syria's Military Intelligence brutally tortured him for 15 days in Daraa, he said, following the assassination of a military officer in the area. "I don't want to get arrested again by the regime," he said.
Mahmoud Murjan was killed after Jordanian authorities deported him, his wife and his two young children back to Syria. On October 15, 2012, 20 days after they returned, armed men came into his house, shot him, and pulled him into a car. Later that day, his body, showing marks of torture, was dumped on the street in front of his father's home.
Jordan is not the only country in the region restricting entry to Palestinians from Syria. In May, a few days after Lebanese authorities forcibly returned three dozen Palestinians to Syria, Lebanon stopped issuing visas to Palestinians at the border. Central Iraq remains effectively closed to both Palestinians and Syrians. Israel is not even mentioned in the conversation because Palestinians are not allowed to return there.
Due to entry restrictions by neighboring countries, Palestinians apparently have been attempting the perilous journey to Europe. One Palestinian told us he paid a smuggler over $20,000 to take him to Europe over land after Jordan deported him to Syria -- he arrived and successfully claimed asylum in early 2014. During a 10 day period in July, more than 260 people, many believed to be from Syria, died or were reported missing during their attempt to cross the Mediterranean.
The plight of Palestinians living in Syria -- at least 520,000 at the beginning of the conflict -- should not be ignored. Countries neighboring Syria, including Jordan and Lebanon, should drop entry restrictions on Palestinians, and all governments should suspend deportations of Palestinians to Syria for now. Israel should allow Palestinians from Syria to enter areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, at least temporarily.
Countries outside the region should share the burden. They should provide financial assistance to countries that take in Palestinian refugees and advocate with those governments to keep their borders open to Palestinians. They should also consider accepting vulnerable Palestinians for temporary resettlement, under which they would not forfeit their right of return. While countries in the region should not shoulder the burden of refugees alone, nothing justifies forcing vulnerable people back into a war-zone.
Adam Coogle is a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. Follow on Twitter @cooglea