Most Syrian refugees, just after entered Jordan to seek safety and asylum, have been directly brought to Jordanian refugee camps as Zaatari and Azraq Camp. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have irregularly left the premises of these camps: the bail-out procedure through which refugees could leave camps regularly was officially suspended in January 2015, pursuant to a governmental decision. Those who left without bail-out after July 2014 are not eligible to obtain legal documentation, namely the Ministry of Interior (MoI Card) Service Card and the UNHCR Asylum Seeker Certificate (UNHCR ASC).
According to figures shared by UNHCR in October 2017, only 398,530 out of the 655,558 Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR hold a valid MoI Card, while the remnant have not yet applied or are not willing or able to.
Without the two main pieces of legal documentation, refugees in Jordan are not able to obtain civil documentation (birth, marriage or death certificates) and work permits. At the same time, undocumented refugees have no or reduced access to public services and humanitarian assistance, and often have to revert to negative coping mechanisms as child labour, early marriage, debts and degrading housing conditions. Furthermore, they face a concrete risk of forcible relocation back to the camps or of deportation to Syria.
From the abundant findings of interviews, assessments and programme activities that INTERSOS is conducting with Syrian refugees in Jordan, it has emerged that one of the main concern is being forcibly returned to Syria and/or relocated to Azraq Camp.
According to an estimate, from April 2014 to November 2016 approximately 20,000 Syrian refugees were relocated to Jordanian refugee camps, the vast majority to the remote facilities of Azraq camp, as Zaatari Camp had long since reached maximum capacity.
The risk of being forcibly relocated is not heightened by a particular category of refugee, geographical area, legal status, age or gender of the Syrian refugee population. On the contrary, any Syrian refugee appears to be at risk of forcible relocation.
Concerning age and gender, the relocated individuals ranged from several month-old babies to grandmothers in their sixties. Several qualitative findings indicate, as well, that health issues or a particular vulnerability do not necessarily serve as protective characteristics from the risk of relocation: direct and indirect witnesses of cases of pregnant women, individuals with disabilities or medical conditions being relocated to Azraq camp were gathered, exposing the individuals to conditions – extreme heat, long distances to access services and isolation – clearly inadequate for these vulnerable cases.
The vast majority of relocations to Azraq camp and deportations to Syria are caused by, or linked to, a lack of documentation. Most of the time, the relocation is due to missing work permits, MoI Service Cards and UNHCR ASC, pieces of documentation individually or cumulatively missing in more than 80% of relocation cases assessed by INTERSOS.
Relocation to Azraq camp can also be a result of poor implementation of approved procedures at the local law enforcement level, in police stations: refugees interview by INTERSOS reported being detained and relocated by local police even when renewing their valid MoI Cards.
Evidence emerged from in-depth interviews indicating that relocation can also be triggered by allegations of involvement in political actions, such as demonstrations in support of organizations providing humanitarian aid to Syrians.
Usually, refugees lacking documentation are identified by the authorities through police activities: such as roadblocks, raids, random checks and workplace inspections.
These are not, however, the only circumstances in which refugees are arrested, detained and subsequently relocated or deported. In some cases, unauthorized gatherings have led to the arrest and relocation of significant numbers of Syrian refugees. In others, the arrest took place once the individuals had spontaneously visited a police station to carry out bureaucratic procedures concerning their documentation.
After being arrested, refugees are transferred to the local police station, where they are held for the time necessary to process the case, a period ranging from a few hours to several days.
Indeed, Jordanian police do not seem to follow a unique standardized procedure: some Syrians reported being transferred several times between different police stations. Many, on the other hand, reported having being detained in proper prisons, while minors reported have been kept in juvenile detention centers for several days.
Many passed through the Raba al Sarhan Registration Center, while others were transferred directly from the police station or the detention center to Azraq camp.
On top of the already traumatic experience of being abruptly relocated to a refugee camp, it should also be considered that authorities rarely allow relocated individuals any time to collect belongings and make arrangements for the rest of the family: data gathered by INTERSOS indicates that in the vast majority of relocations (61.3%), no notice has been given at all. In the remaining 38.7% of cases in which notice was given more than half of the time (57.2%) the notice period was 24 hours or less.
The range of different consequences that the relocation of one or more members of a family have on the relocated individuals, as well as on their household, proved to be vast.
The primary effect of these coercive measures, affecting both categories, is family separation. In 55,1% of the cases assessed by INTERSOS the relocation measure concerned 4 or less members of the family, very often including the head of the household, with less than 20% of the cases concerning the entire family.
Family separation is linked to several negative sub consequences: increasing negative coping mechanisms due to the loss of sources of income; further economic hardship and indebtedness; psychological trauma and fear; unaccompanied or separated children (UASC); increasing risk of abuse, exploitation, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).
With regards to those left behind, direct repercussions range between stress, anxiety, abandonment, sexual harassment and exploitation, signs of psychological trauma, depression, and even heart attacks.
It should also be stressed that most of the time the relocation concerns the breadwinners of the household – because of their higher exposure to police checks, while on their way to/from work or while at the workplace – thus strongly impacting the situation of those left behind with the same expenses but significantly reduced income.
Resorting to child labour, child marriage, early removal of children from school and exploitative work are other clear examples of resulting negative coping strategies.
Qualitative findings from this study suggest, moreover, that the impact of family separation is particularly harsh on the children left behind, who in several cases reported various consequences such as deep emotional distress, entire days in tears or without saying a word, frequently inquiring about their missing relatives and fearing they will never see them again.
The vast majority of Syrian refugees who are forcibly relocated are sent to the remote facilities of Azraq Camp, as Zaatari Camp had long since reached maximum capacity.
Azraq Camp is located in eastern Zarqa Governorate, in the desert area towards the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Despite a nominal capacity of 120,000, the camp currently hosts approximately 35,500 refugees.
Among the reasons why many left Azraq Camp or reported not being willing to return to, interviewees mentioned issues such as the unbearable heat, the long distances to be covered daily to access food, water and services, the insufficient amount of food vouchers, the high prices of the few shops available in the area, the slow or absent provision of services and assets, the isolated location in the desert, and the lack of livelihood opportunities.
Once forcibly relocated to Azraq, virtually the only way for refugees to leave the premises of the camp is to obtain a leave permit. In order to visit their relatives left behind and support them, many have to face the expenses and logistical difficulties of travelling constantly back and forth between the remote Azraq Camp and their previous homes.
The Jordanian authorities adopted a policy of invalidating the documents of the relocated individuals despite their validity and replacing them with an Azraq Camp Card, valid only for the camp. Secondary informants reported that, since December 2016, there has been a worryingly sharp rise in the practice of inactivating even the valid biometric MoI Cards.
This mechanism appears to turn regularity into irregularity, restricting the freedom of movement of Syrian refugees and leaving them with the unfortunate alternative of being stuck in camps or hiding outside them, under the constant fear of being caught again and possibly deported to Syria.
Estimates by the UN and other independent sources suggest that 2,000 to 3,000 refugees have been deported from Jordan to Syria in 2017 alone. The two main justifications of deportation measures to Syria appeared to be alleged national security threats, and lack of civil and legal documentation, particularly work permits.
However, legal provisions as the customary law principle of non-refoulement, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Arab Charter of Human Rights prevent Jordan from expelling individuals to a place where they are at risk of persecution, torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Similarly to forcible relocations to camps, deportation measures do not appear to target any particular age group, gender, social or geographical category of Syrian refugees in Jordan; however, young and adult males appear to be more frequently the primary subjects of deportations.
In most cases assessed by INTERSOS, Syrian refugees perceived deportations to be carried out by the Jordanian authorities without transparency or due process. Few deportees have reported to their relatives being aware of the reason for such measures; none appeared to have received the assistance of a lawyer, to have been heard by a judge, to have been able to defend himself/herself from the allegations in any way or to have been allowed to communicate with his/her relatives or the UNHCR. However, no mistreatment by the police and/or public authorities was reported.
In none of the cases assessed by INTERSOS, deportees reported to their relatives in Jordan that they were able to return to their place of origin in Syria. Most of them appear to have settled in the southern governorate of Dara’a, even if not originally from that area. In several cases, deportation led to secondary displacement within Syria, and even to further asylum seeking in third countries such as Lebanon, Turkey or Greece.
Severe protection concerns have been detected as a direct and indirect consequence of deportations, ranging from psychological trauma to serious negative coping mechanisms such as child labour, early marriage and even death.
[INTERSOS’ Internal Report, May 2017]