Are Syrian Children Being Denied Entry into Jordan?

According to a recent statement by Amnesty International, many of the refugees who have been recently waiting to cross the border from Syria into Jordan are families with young children who are fleeing the ongoing conflict. One of the examples that was discussed in the same Ammon News article is the case of Amina, who was told to return in a month with her six children. This is despite the fact that the conflict has prevented them from being able to return to their home village of Dera’a al-Hera, forcing them to live out on the road and forage for food. There were also reports of other families with young children who were being forced to turn back when they attempted to enter Jordan.

In an ongoing conflict such as this one, denial of entry into a neighboring country can mean a literal death sentence for many refugees. Said Boumedouha, the director of Amnesty International’s Middle Eastern division said that Jordan (and other neighboring countries) have an obligation not to deny entry to refugees. He also said that it is also important for other countries to provide aid to states like Jordan which are affected so heavily by the conflict. These reports of Syrians who can provide evidence of their citizenship in Syria represent a new and much less welcoming attitude to refugees who are escaping a desparate situation. Regardless of one’s belief about the effects of the conflict on Jordanian infrastructure, few would dispute the fact that it is immoral to deny children the chance to escape from a violent conflict. A report from December 2012 (which is admittedly several months old) say that a majority of the refugees in Jordan may be children. Many of these children have resorted to attempting to sell goods to other refugees for a little bit of income to provide for necessities.

It is true that the presence of the refugees has provided a strain on Jordan’s economy and infrastructure at a most unfortunate time. It is also true that the situation in the region as a whole compounds the difficulties to a large degree. Particularly stressful for many communities is the influx of refugees who are settling in urban areas rather than living in refugee camps, which makes aid more difficult to deliver. Another way that the conflict has stressed Jordan’s infrastructure is through the impact of lost trade revenue with Syria, prompting the economic collapse of communities that used to depend on trade with Jordan’s northern neighbor. When this economic collapse is coupled with an influx of refugees it is not surprising that a degree of resentment would develop among some Jordanians towards the refugees who have become unwitting symbols of the difficulties that the conflict is causing in Jordan. This resentment is not surprising but it is also unfair to direct it at the refugees or to blame them for the situation that the conflict has caused for Jordanians.

The decision to turn away child refugees is deplorable, but admitting more refugees when the pace of aid is unclear is indeed going to further strain Jordan’s resources. Families with young children must be allowed to escape the conflict, but more recognition is required of the strains on Jordan and indeed other neighboring states that the conflict in Syria has caused. Perhaps the real issue is not really the presence of refugees themselves but rather the fact that most of the parties supporting either side in this conflict are participating for real or perceived strategic advantage, while shifting most of the harm of the conflict onto neighboring states such as Jordan.

Is King Abdullah worried about being overthrown?

King Abdullah is said to have told US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and US Senator Lindsey Graham (a Republican from South Carolina) that he is afraid of being overthrown. This was revealed at a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee at which Graham and Dempsey had an exchange in which they said they had both met with King Abdullah, who is said to be very concerned of being overthrown due to demographic changes in Jordan. He is said to have told Graham in 2012 that Syrian refugees may destabilize Jordan and cause his ouster, and when Graham asked Dempsey about it, Dempsey shared a similar concern.

Last year, as mentioned above, King Abdullah is said to have believed that demographic changes caused by the presence of Syrian refugees may be a potential cause of his overthrow. He is said to have told Graham that there would be one million Syrian refugees in Jordan and that this would pose a grave risk to the regime. As things stand now, the numbers of refugees who are present in Jordan is not completely clear. A recent report indicates that there are approximately 450,000 in Jordan presently, although this may be a low estimate. One important fact to remember is that while most of the refugees are in the Zaatari refugee camp, there are undoubtedly other refugees who are dispersed among Jordanian cities. Other reports indicate that the number of refugees in Jordan may be much higher, at about 800,000 in total. It is also true that Jordan is in poor financial shape and that it is ill-placed to cope with this influx of refugees who are fleeing from the conflict in Syria to the north.

This is, of course, not the first time that Jordan has faced a large influx of refugees who are fleeing a conflict that is taking place in a neighboring country. During the Iraq war hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled to Jordan although the exact number is hard to determine.

What are we to make of these comments that King Abdullah is said to have made about the potential of being overthrown? Perhaps it is genuine fear – the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees who are attempting to leave a conflict zone with no end in sight certainly has the potential to have a destabilizing effect. However, there may be something else at play here – an attempt by the regime to seek additional aid from the United States to address the costs of hosting these refugees. Perhaps both are involved. Only time will tell.

It is too early to tell what to make of King Abdullah’s comments about his potential overthrow, but what is clear is that the conflict in Syria has the potential to spread far beyond Syria’s borders. If it continues as it is now for an indefinite period it is impossible to predict the effects that it will have on the region and especially on neighboring countries, Jordan included.