‘Open the Borders’ campaign puts pressure on Jordanian government to accept Syrian refugees

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  • Rights activists are in favor of opening the borders because it is “a humanitarian and ethical issue, as well as a legal obligation.”
  • Government spokesperson Jumana Gunaimat says the government will not reverse its policy.

AMMAN: A campaign to persuade the Jordanian government to accept Syrian refugees has become the No. 1 trending hashtag in Jordan.

Human rights activist Mohammed Shamma told Arab News that the campaign — “Open the Borders” — was launched after the new Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s announcement on Tuesday that Jordan could not accommodate any more Syrian refugees and was continuing to close its borders because of financial and security concerns.

“We expected the Razzaz government — which has been talking about reform and human rights — to respect international obligations and understand the humanitarian needs of Syrian asylum seekers,” said Shamma.

Jordanian lawyer Jamal Jeet, who lives near the Syrian border, told Arab News that his family has taken in refugees in the past.

“We feel that we have a responsibility toward our neighbors, many of whom are our relatives, and we would want the same to happen if we were in trouble,” he said. “The issue is not whether we have taken enough refugees or not, but that we should respect the law and adhere to our values.”

Hala Ahed, coordinator of the Insan Coalition for Human Rights, told Arab News that she is in favor of opening the borders because it is “a humanitarian and ethical issue, as well as a legal obligation.”

Ahed suggested that the government, which has cited security concerns as one of the reasons for the border closure, could keep asylum seekers “in an isolated place until they can vet the suspects.”

Government spokesperson Jumana Gunaimat told Arab News that the government would not reverse its policy.

“Our position is not against our Syrian neighbors and we understand their human suffering, but the international community needs to take its place and role,” Gunaimat said, adding that countries including the US, Russia and Syria itself have to take their share of responsibility for Syrians fleeing the violence.

Gunaimat said that the government was in favor of setting up “safe havens” inside Syria for those displaced by the conflict.
Stefano Severe, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan, told Arab News that the government’s decision would make it very difficult to send supplies and humanitarian aid across the border to those in need. “We have been informed that there are people (waiting) at the borders, but we are not sure how to deal with the situation until we can figure out the final status of the refugees,” he said.

Riyad Al-Subuh, a human rights lawyer and an international refugee law expert, told Arab News that international law obliges the government of Jordan to take in asylum seekers, even though the country has not signed the 1951 refugee convention. He added that financial reasons cannot be used to reject asylum seekers.

“While it is absolutely true that the international community needs to share the burden of taking in refugees, international law doesn’t allow the government to reject genuine asylum seekers for economic reasons,” he explained.

Al-Subuh agreed that the government’s security concerns are legitimate, considering what happened at the Rukban refugee camp, where five Jordanian soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in 2016.

However, he added, “to address that problem, Jordan may require a higher level of security, or even a joint committee for the purpose of vetting asylum seekers, but this does not justify not taking in innocent people.”

Human rights activist Shamma noted that while everyone is aware of the dire economic situation in their country, Jordanians are willing to share the burden.

“We can’t stand idly by while our fellow human beings are dying because of the border closure,” he said. “We reject this decision and we are willing to divide the available loaf of bread in half so that the lives of innocent civilians who are not responsible for the political problems are spared.”

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