Jordan ‘shuts down’ open border policy for Syrians

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A Syrian family in a tent near Jordan's border with the Occupied West Bank. Photo - Matthew Bell

Jordan is ending its open door policy for neighbouring Syrians amid rising false asylum claims, government and UN officials said on Tuesday.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity told AP that individual Syrian males with residency permits elsewhere will be barred entry under the new procedures. He said dozens coming from third countries have been turned back over the past few weeks.

The Jordanian Interior Ministry estimated that some 125,000 Syrians have arrived since the outbreak of violence in their country in March 2011. Some crossed the northern land border directly while others entered by air via the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Lebanon, or elsewhere.

Syria is one of Jordan’s largest Arab trade partners, with bilateral trade estimated at $470 million last year. Also, 60% of Jordanian exports, mainly fruits and vegetables, are routed through Syria for onward shipping to Turkey overland or to Europe via Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

The government official rubbished claims that the new procedures were taken for political reasons. He added that Jordan is concerned over a larger influx of individuals seeking to take advantage of its open border policy and assistance programme.

Syrian refugees are allowed access to food and cash aid, public education and health care once they arrive in Jordan. They also have the  prospect of getting resettled in a third country in Europe, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Western nations.

Andrew Harper, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan, accepted that Jordan has a right to  refuse an individual’s entry to the country if it has doubts over the eligibility of refugee status, under a 1951 UN convention on refugee status.

“We understand Jordan’s concerns, but we want to make sure that it also fulfills its international obligations,” Harper said in a telephone interview.

“We have seen 125,000 Syrians enter Jordan not only because of the violence, but for a variety of reasons. Some of them are not very clear and some are questionable,” he said. “We have to make sure that those seeking protection and international assistance are actually in need.”

According to Interior Ministry figures and relief workers, Jordan is keeping its northern borders open and is receiving an average of 150 Syrians per day despite tough screening on the borders.

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