World urged to help Jordan end restrictions on Syria refugees

AFP , Thursday 31 Oct 2013

Jordan hosts more than 500,000 Syrian refugees, including some 120,000 in the northern Zaatari camp near the border

Jordanian children play on a swing at a playground in the town of Zarqa, Jordan's industrial center where thousands of Syrian refugees are living, northeast of the capital Amman, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Amnesty International on Thursday urged world support to help Jordan and other countries hosting Syrian refugees end border restrictions on those fleeing the conflict, saying hundreds are being turned back.

In a new report, Amnesty highlights the difficulties faced by people who are trying to escape the conflict in Syria to neighbouring countries, mainly Jordan.

The tiny desert kingdom hosts more than 500,000 Syrian refugees, including some 120,000 in the northern Zaatari camp near the border.

"It is unacceptable that scores of people from Syria, including families with small children seeking refuge from the fighting, are being denied admission by neighbouring countries," Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement.

More than 115,000 people have been killed and over 2.1 million forced to flee -- mostly to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt -- since the conflict erupted after a crackdown on protests that began in March 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations says the total number of refugees is expected to swell to 3.5 million by the end of the year, while close to seven million people forecast to need aid inside Syria this year.

Despite statements by the authorities that the border has remained open to those fleeing the conflict, the London-based organisation said its research indicates that scores are being denied access to Jordan.

"This includes Palestinian refugees from Syria, people lacking identity documents and Iraqi refugees living in Syria. Unaccompanied men with no demonstrable family ties in Jordan are also turned away," the report said.

Jordan has repeatedly called for more international aid. It says the growing refugee influx has placed a huge burden on already overstretched water and power supplies as well as housing and education, while unemployed Jordanians face tough competition from Syrians for jobs.

The Jordanian authorities have told Amnesty they would not return anyone to Syria, according to the report.

But in August 2012 some 200 refugees were deported back to Syria after protests broke out at Zaatri over living conditions, it said, adding that information obtained by the organisation indicate that scores of other individuals have since been returned.

"The influx of refugees has placed an enormous strain on countries in the region. Their resources are understandably stretched. However, this should not be used as an excuse for denying people entry or forcibly returning people to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria," said Luther.

"The international community has an important role to play in offering support to countries in the region who so far are shouldering the burden of Syria's refugees with minimal resources. Immediate action is needed to step up international humanitarian aid and resettlement programmes and avert a worsening crisis."

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