Middle East

Syrian refugees 'stranded in Jordanian desert'

Still from a video by a Syrian showing an informal tent camp just inside the Jordanian border at Hadalat taken in late 2014. Image copyright Human Rights Watch
Image caption An informal tent camp just inside the Jordanian border at Hadalat was filmed in late 2014

Hundreds of Syrian refugees are stranded in remote desert areas because Jordan is restricting informal border crossings, Human Rights Watch says.

The refugees are stuck just inside Jordan's border with only limited access to food, water and medical help.

HRW said Jordan had done a great deal to help Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, but that this was "no excuse to abandon newer arrivals".

Jordan's government said it continued to "adopt an open-border policy".

The country is hosting 630,000 of the almost four million Syrians registered as refugees with the UN.

Jordan says a total of 1.4 million Syrians are living there, including those who arrived before the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

'Deported'

HRW said the Jordanian authorities had gradually tightened entry restrictions over the past two years, with two informal crossings in desert areas in the east - Rukban and Hadalat - becoming the only way in for most Syrians.

Jordan had heavily restricted entries at those crossings too from July 2014, the US-based group added.

HRW said recent satellite imagery showed approximately 175 informal tent shelters at Rukban and 68 at Hadalat, indicating the likely presence of hundreds of people.

Aid agencies estimated that about 2,500 people were stranded there in mid-April, but an international aid worker told HRW that this number had dropped to about 1,000 by late May after the Jordanian border guards allowed some of them to move out of the border zone.

"Jordan has gone to great lengths to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees," said Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director. "But that is no excuse to abandon newer arrivals in remote border areas for weeks without effective protection and regular aid access."

HRW also said it had spoken to a Syrian who had been taken to the Raba Sarhan registration centre, then immediately deported to Syria without being registered.

Such summary returns would amount to refoulement, which violates the prohibition in customary international law on returning a person to a real risk of persecution, the group warned.

In response to HRW's report, a Jordanian government spokesman told the Associated Press news agency that it "continues to adopt an open-border policy" in line with procedures worked out with the relevant international organisations.