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Local focus: Refugee protection in Jordan

April 20, 2005

The opinions expressed here may not represent the views of RSDWatch or Asylum Access, and are distributed here in the interests of public discussion.

By Ayman Halasa

Assistant Professor of International Public Law, Israa University (Amman)

Palestinian Refugees

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) defines Palestinian refugees as persons who resided in Palestine two years prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1948, and who lost their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the conflict, as well as children and grandchildren descended from these original Palestinian refugees.

UN General Assembly Resolution 194 recognizes only repatriation or compensation as permanent solutions to the Palestinian refugee problem. Citizenship in another country, therefore, does not terminate refugee status as it would for other refugee groups covered by the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. The UN Refugee Convention excludes Palestinians who are already receiving UNRWA’s assistance. In effect, this means that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not concern itself with (or count) Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although it may assist Palestinian refugees outside the UNRWA mandate area or who otherwise cannot access UNRWA assistance.

All Palestine refugees in Jordan have full Jordanian citizenship with the exception of about 100,000 refugees originally from the Gaza Strip who in the 1967 war. Up to 1967 Gaza was administered by Egypt. They are eligible for temporary Jordanian passports, which do not entitle them to full citizenship rights such as the right to vote and employment with the government.

In September and October 2004, Minister of Interior Samir Habashneh has stressed more than once that Palestinian refugees in Jordan are citizens, who enjoy full rights, but he rebuffied claims that there were efforts to permanently settle them in the Kingdom.

In mid-2004, the Ministry of Interior started issuing residence cards for the Gazan refugees. The Minister explained that these documents have no political connotations. He explained that the cards do not include a national number, stressing that they do not give the holders the right to healthcare, education in public schools and other services offered exclusively to citizens.

Non-Palestinian Refugees

As for non-Palestinian refugees, Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, but the Jordanian government agreed in October 1991 that UNHCR could establish a Branch Office (BO) so it can fulfill its protection duties. Jordan also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with UNHCR in April 1998 concerning the treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees. According to the MOU, Jordan agrees to admit asylum seekers, including undocumented entrants, and to respect UNHCR’s refugee status determination (RSD). The memorandum also adopts the refugee definition contained in the UN Refugee Convention and forbids the refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers.

Jordan’s municipal laws are deficient as far as asylum is concerned. There is no legal regime governing refugee status determination. According to the MOU asylum seekers registered with UNHCR are allowed to remain in Jordan pending consideration of their cases by UNHCR and their resettlement to third countries.

According to article 5 of the MOU UNHCR must find a durable solution for recognized refugees within 6 months. Such solutions are mainly resettlement or voluntary repatriation. It should be noted that the government has shown great flexibility in applying article 5; there have been some occasions where recognized refugees have remained in the country for more than 2 years.

The Role of the Jordanian Government

In August 1999, the Minster of Interior issued regulations for the use of the Director of the General Security to insure effective application of the MOU. These regulations contain the following:

UNHCR officials shall be given access to asylum seekers in detention for the purposes of RSD. Practice had shown that the directors of detention centers allow rejected applicants to submit appeals through the ministry of interior.

Asylum seekers in detention shall be held in one detention center in order to accelerate the refugee status determination process.

Any recognized refugee shall be released, if he/she was detained due to his/her violation of the Residency and Foreigners Affairs Law.

Postponing any action taken against asylum seekers until his/her status is being determined.

In the past years recognized refugees were given a blue card issued by UNHCR and stamped by the ministry of interior and asylum seekers were given only a yellow card issued by UNHCR. According to the new arrangements which took place in 2004, UNHCR, Ministry of Interior, and Public Security Department are responsible for the printing of documentation for both recognized refugees and asylum-seekers.

The General Intelligence Directorate also cooperates with UNHCR and allows protection staff to interview asylum seekers detained at their premises for reasons of public security.

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