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International report

The Palestinians fleeing Syria, trapped in Jordan

Audio 03:15
Reuters/Muhammad Hamed
By: Ruth Michaelson

The numbers of Syrians fleeing into neighbouring Jordan has now reached almost 150,000 since the start of the uprising, but behind these numbers lays a crisis for a hidden minority.

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The approximately half a million Palestinian refugees| who originally fled to Syria in 1948 from what is now Israel| have been caught in the crossfire between the Assad regime and the opposition forces since the uprising began. Yet as the conflict has increasingly begun to reach their doorsteps, some have tried to flee to Jordan, only to encounter greater problems.

Inside the Cyber City camp in northern Jordan, 159 Palestinians live in extremely cramped conditions in what used to be a university building. Access to journalists is forbidden, which meant going undercover to talk to the refugees themselves.

Ayash fled with his wife Ouson, their young son and Ouson’s sister. He explains that he was blacklisted by regime forces after helping a Syrian neighbour who was injured.

“When the uprisings began we didn’t feel that the Palestinian community was a target. But now, every Palestinian is being stopped at checkpoints: very often they’re taken away or even killed.”

Palestinians in Syria are forced into a corner: as long-time recipients of government aid, they are often presumed to be regime sympathisers. Yet the Assad regime has begun to target them, fearing that their numbers would be too much of a boost to opposition forces. In June, the regime began to shell Palestinian refugee camps, such as Yarmouk close to Damascus.

Ayash and his family fled along with thirty others. But having crossed the border into Jordan, they were still not safe.

“The Jordanian police asked us to distinguish who was Syrian and who was Palestinian at the border, during questioning. We took it from the questions that as Palestinians we were not welcome in Jordan. After the questioning and bringing us to this camp, they came the next day and drove us back to the border, to the same place we’d entered from. They asked us to go back to Syria, and we told them no: we could see the shelling from where we were standing. Eventually they agreed to let us stay.”

Recent reports by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International |have detailed the Jordanian authorities refusing entry to Palestinians coming from Syria. Worse, of the 12 people interviewed by Human Rights watch, nine reported that they had been deported, had family who’d been deported or had experienced being driven to the border and ordered to cross at gunpoint by the Jordanian Military Security,| who then relented after the refugees had begged them not to make them cross.

Ayash’s family now have one small room to share, sleeping on mattresses and sharing squalid cooking and washing facilities with the nine other families on their floor. Unlike the Syrians in their camp, they cannot leave to visit relatives, receive any visits or even walk to the nearby supermarket. They are confined to the camp indefinitely.

After a letter detailing their case sent to UNWRA and the Jordanian authorities went unanswered, the refugees in Cyber City began to boycott aid from both parties.

Nasser Khalid is the head of Sanabel, the charity which is now the sole lifeline to the Palestinians in Cyber City.

“That place isn’t a camp, it’s a jail. The problems which affect it are purely political, not issues of aid or money.”

The refugees hoped that the Palestinian Authority would intervene and pressure Jordan into granting them equal rights with other refugees, although this is yet to happen.

For now they are stateless, rejected by Jordan and unable to re-enter Palestine. Ayash explains why they want to eventually return to Syria:

“I wasn’t born in Syria, but I’ve lived my entire life there, my friends and my entire world are there. I love Syrian people, I love the Syrian land. I want to go back.”

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