The research focuses on the Jordanian approach to tackle the Syrian emergency in terms of first reception and treatment of refugees. The aim of the analysis is to study how Jordan copes with the Crisis in order to satisfy its internal security priorities and to comply with the International obligations. After the end of the Cold War new theoretical approaches emerged in the field of border studies; in particular, the border securitization paradigm that insists on the social and political construction of the threats and the migration-security nexus approach that identifies the new non-actors external threats in the figure of refugee. The aim of the present work is to figure it out if in Jordan the securitization discourse has been used to justify the ongoing IL violations. The analysis has demonstrated that the Kingdom does not directly identifies the menace to its internal stability in refugee movements and that the state approach and the different border policies developed during the years represents the response to the regional and international instability created by the Syrian crisis. Following this path, refugees do not embodied the threat itself but they can be bearer of instability. Data have been gathered through interviews, confidential dialogues and direct observations of the situation and all the different perspectives of the actors involved in this crisis (Syrians, NGOs, IOs, Intelligence System, Government) have been presented. Section (1) introduces the border securitization discourse, originally formulated by Wæver (1995) and generally associated with the Copenhagen School. The Copenhagen School suggests that security should be seen “as a speech act, where the central issue is not if threats are real or not, but the ways in which a certain issue can be socially constructed as a threat.” Moving from this assumption, scholars have created a link between the new non-actors external threats, developed following the end of the Cold War, and the figure of refugee: if on the one hand the new threats to the state security are represented by non-state actors, on the other hand they are embodied by the figure of refugee. Although Jordan has always been considered a safe haven for all people escaping disaster and looking for refuge, different policies of entry denial have been applied during the years to asylum seekers whenever it came to security issues. Section (2) draws a general overview of the policies developed and implemented on the Jordanian borderline since the onset of the Syrian crisis and aims to analyze the validity of the securitization paradigm applied to the Jordanian approach in terms of refugees’ reception. The paragraph permits also to develop a reflection regarding the nexus existing between the terrorist threat represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and the movements of Syrians, in order to figure out if refugees represent a real menace to the state security or if there has been a political construction of the fear useful to justify the violations of International Law (IL) committed by the Jordanian Government (JG). Section (3) presents the specific situation faced by Palestine Refugees from Syria (PRS). They are discouraged and not allowed to enter Jordan in order to prevent unbalance in the demographic situation of the country. The uncontrolled growth of the number of Palestinians could generate a loss of identity inside the Kingdom and Jordan is still the homeland of Jordanians and cannot become a new Palestine. The JG’s attitude towards Syrians is not new but represents a common practice already experienced by other groups of people who previously asked for asylum in Jordan. The analysis demonstrates how too often policies and practices justified in terms of national security have been in violation of IL, mainly of the non-refoulement principle also recognized as Customary International Law (CIL). Section (4) introduces the national laws as well as the international instruments that protect migration movements and these documents constitute the legal basis to demonstrate the effectiveness of the ongoing violations. Finally, section (5) presents the outcomes of the analysis. Even if some categories of people have often been discriminated it seems hard to state that refugees in Jordan represent the direct threat to the state security. Problems are related to refugee only in terms of the impact and influence that the external threats, particularly terrorism, have on migrations.
The paper is of particular interest since it applies for the first time the border securitization discourse to a Middle East country, contributing to fill a gap in the area of border studies, mostly based on analysis conducted in Western countries. Jordan represents an unique case study being both a buffer state and one of the country in the MENA region most affected by the refugees crisis. The priority of national security and stability, continuosly challenged by the international events and by the rise of ISIS, does not always match with the commitment to assure a safe refuge to people of concern. The Jordanian response to the Crisis is of particular interest in order to understand how to balance different and constrasting priorities and to demonstrate that refugees do not always represent a direct menace to the security of the hosting state.
The Border Securitization Discourse: the Migration-Security Nexus
Following the idea of territoriality and sovereignty, borders have been created. Although in the past they were not conceived as barriers clearly defined, as lines in the sand (Parker, Vaughan-Williams 2009:582) as today are, they have always represented the idea of limit between the insiders and the outsiders of a specific territory. Jurisdictional boundaries in the medieval world were more porous and overlapping than the rigid, impenetrable borders of the modern world. (Haddad 2003:303). With the creation of the absolute monarchies and the development of the concept of sovereignty states, communities began to perceive themselves as a unique unit distinct from others and protected by the national boundaries. Simultaneously to the creation of the welfare states, and following its fundamental ideology according to which each sovereign must at the same time guarantee a security environment inside its territory and protect the identity of its citizens, the concept of border as a physical limit got sense. Borders are not only physical walls that enable governments to protect territories from external threats; more than this they represent cultural, identity and religious barriers whose aim is to safeguard the identity of a specific community by underlining the difference between the citizens of a state and the foreigners. (Anderson, O’Dowd 1999:593-604) The correlation between migration and national security, considered both in terms of identity changes and external actor threats, exists since the development of the idea of territoriality but since the middle of the 19th century it was particularly related to the fear of cultural and identity change. (Faist, 2004:10)
Moreover, while in the past the main threats to the states’ stability were identified in enemy state actors, following the end of the Cold War the new threats emanated from non-state actors. In particular, the globalization phenomena has represented a double-edged sword. If on the one hand it has allowed transnational movements, transfer of ideas, and has mixed societies and economies, on the other hand the new global world has posed risks to the internal security of states; while creating worldwide opportunities, globalization has extended flow of potential risks in the form of crime trafficking, drugs and terrorism. This is why, despite the evolution of an increasingly transnational world, modern states tend to cling to the concept of national sovereignty when it comes to immigration. (Nevins 2001:139) When the term securitization has emerged in the academic literature of border studies, this has started to identify new concerns about new security issues. After the Cold War and especially following the 9/11, terrorism has gain the first place in the discussions on migration and borders’ securitization and migrants have been more and more considered suspicious and dangerous for the security and safety of the hosting states. (Crépeau 2012:55)
Read in this light, the migration-security nexus is nothing other than the expression of the state’s response to this new situation, a situation where the gravest threats to the state and its population come not from enemy armies or rival geopolitical blocs but from these new flows, diffuse networks and mobile dangers. (Walters 2010:218)
National and international political factors have always played a central role in the construction of the border: indeed governmental approaches are mostly dictated by international events and decisions are always justified by strategic reasons. In the last twenty years borders have been more and more stiffened and toughened with the main commitment to bolster internal security. Policies and instruments capable of greater surveillance have been developed to police and limit movement of people. Moreover, there has been an attempt to link refugees to a problem of national security: indeed, more than only represent a burden for the economy and the identity of the hosting state, they are often connected with terrorist groups and therefore more entitled to attack the governmental institutions. This social and political construction of the threat has often been useful to justify the new control measures in place on the borderlines. Policy makers have exploited the migration discourse to gain electoral votes for example declaring that measures have been taken to face the migration suspect movements and to destroy the external menaces. The border control in this way has also become a political instrument. (Walters 2010:218)
States whose sovereignty is affected by many aspects of globalization, in the attempt to reaffirm their national priorities, have re-emphasized the role of the border as symbol of national sovereignty (Crépeau, Nakache 2006:4) and migration controls have become part of their securitization agenda. But the new securitization mechanisms, developed to assure the internal stability and security of countries have sometimes been to the detriment of Human Rights and have often led to the violation of international obligations. While in the past humanitarian priorities were low on the states agenda because they didn’t fix with the commitment of modern states to build a strong national identity, nowadays the humanitarian problem of refugees does not fix with the state priority to assure security within its boundaries.
The Jordanian Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Border Management
Historically Jordan has been a regional cross-road for migration movements that contributed to shape its demographic, economic and political structure. It has been the recipient for foreigner workers and, being located at the center of a large unstable area, has always represented a safe haven for all those people who escaped wars, political instability and persecution in the region. Thanks to its open border policy the Kingdom in the last decade gained time after time the first position in the world as hosting country with the highest number of refugees. Nevertheless, during the years different policies of entry denial have been applied to asylum seekers. (De Bel-Air 2007:2-4) Whenever the country faces security risks the balance between the Jordanian external role as hosting country and its national priorities is always on behalf of the internal concerns.
The border between Syria and Jordan extends for 378 Km. The JG does not provide stable troops all along the frontier but the entire extension of the borderline is continuously monitored throughout a wide range of sensors, communications towers and command and control equipment to assist the JA.1 In Jordan there is not legislation regarding the JA’s behavior in terms of refugees’ reception. The Chief of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn AL-Hussein, declares the official line of the State and the Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour gives some declarations according to the King’s statements. As the declarations are just directives and do not represent official policies they are continuously reviewed according to the internal and international situation of the Kingdom in a specific moment.2
Since the onset of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, the number of people escaping the country has increased by a great amount. The annual percentage rate of incomes is grown slowly from July 2012 to January 2013 (26,731-120,018), but with the collapse of the Syrian crisis the number of asylum seekers is hugely increased. Until mid-2013, the flow of refugees exceeded 2,000 per day and in July 2013 there were 495,127 Syrian refugees in Jordan. This rate then suddenly dropped to several hundred -in January 2014 the tax covered 582,166 people- until the beginning of September when the reception of Syrians on the border slowly started to halt. The last UNHCR updated data report that currently in Jordan there are 632,762 persons of concern, (UNHCR: Syria Regional Refugee Response)3 but medias present a higher statistic sustaining that nowadays there are more than 2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan.
The first phase of the Jordanian response to the Syrian crisis has been characterized by a constant research of balance between humanitarian commitments and internal priorities. During 2011, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan allowed everyone to enter the country, without any discrimination in terms of nationality, age and sex. Those who arrived on the border crossing points without IDs were also accepted and classified as illegal cases. Part of the new comers settled in tends all around the country while others went to leave in the host communities trying to integrate in the Jordanian society. At the beginning of 2012 Jordan was still continuing to host all Syrians but a different treatment was addressed to those who crossed the border illegally: they were transferred to the housing complexes in order to undergo background checks. This governmental decision was due to the need to preserve and assure country’s stability and security: indeed as a consequence of the refugee community’s growth the phenomenon of infiltration of Assad spies and rebels into the country increased. Moreover, in April 2012 the JG’s approach changed towards PRS. Palestinians were blocked on the borderline and the JA, in accordance with the governmental declaration, started to refuse their admission in the country. (Human Rights Watch. 2014.) In July 2012 the situation became more complex. Fights in Syria intensified and for the first time since the onset of the crisis, UN declared the Syrian conflict a civil war. On July 29th UNHCR opened the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan’s northern governorate of Mafraq. By the end of the year the number of persons of concern assisted by UNHCR was around 119,000 with circa 45,000 individuals hosted in Za’atari camp. Starting from mid-2013, the JG’s open border policy changed. Since the increasing number of people living in Jordan was affecting the country’s resources and capabilities, the government decided to limit the inflow of Syrians. It closed part of its frontier provoking a consequently and immediate build-up of refugees on the Syrian-Jordanian borderline. According to the Amnesty International inquiries and to the data gathered from Syrians it seems that during 2013 four categories of people were being denied access to Jordan: PRS and Iraqi refugees, people lacking IDs and unaccompanied men with no demonstrable family ties in the country. The difficulties to come back to Syria because of the intensified fights caused a build-up of people trapped near the Jordanian border. Moreover, for those who succeeded in entering the country forced deportations were always a risk. Starting from January 2014 the number of Syrians let into the country has been more and more restricted. The most common practices used by the JG to control movements across the border have been the introduction of policies that prevent refugees who have traveled back to Syria from re-entering Jordan and the rejection of those who do not hold IDs.4 The average of people crossing the border monthly dropped from up to 60,000 to 10,000 from January to September 2014. (Norwegian Refugee Council and International Rescue Committee. 2014.) According to the ICRC in September 2014 the official border crossing points were closed and Syrians were crossing at unofficial crossing points. (Interview ICRC) Moreover, aid agencies and newly arrived refugees reported that around the 60% of those who succeed in entering the country, had been deported back to Syria from the Raba’a Al Sarhan Transit Centre before they were able to register with UNHCR. (Norwegian Refugee Council and International Rescue Committee. 2014.) Nevertheless, still in November 2014, Dr. Saleh AL-Kilani has sustained that the research of the balance between the humanitarian commitments and the state priorities that has characterized the first phase of the Jordanian response to the Syrian refugee crisis was still in the running.
(…) of course we bear in mind our national security. If we are not secure we are not be able to receive these people. We are working together with NGOs, IOs, UN agencies and International Community to achieve this goal, to make that difficult cohesion between security and Human Rights, to make a trust confidence between the host country (Jordan) and the refugees themselves because our mission is protection. Not anything else, not a military one, just serving as much as you can, which is something not easy. (Interview Dr. Saleh AL-Kilani)
Despite the importance of the IL it is not possible to talk about refugees and hosting states without considering the implications that refugee movements have on the internal security of a country. Refugees represent a mixed mass of people whose characteristics are different and elaborated. Most of them are civilians but a large part is always composed by ex-combatants or rebels. These last, when able to reorganize radical networks, in the long term may pose a menace for the stability of the hosting country. It is worth noting that a considerable part of Syrians who ask for asylum in Jordan collaborate with ISIS. The terroristic movements provides them with basic necessities and assist their escape but once Syrians enter Jordan they are questioned to rebuild a terrorist cell inside the new country. The security sector, in accordance with the preservation of the state’s stability, has reacted through stricter check procedures on the borderline and often with asylum seekers’ rejections. Even if the JG have always affirmed that only those who represented a security threat for the country were rejected, the majority of Syrians were not allowed to cross. In January 2015 around 4,000 people were camped at the berm near the border at Rubkan and Hadalat in north-eastern Jordan. (UNHCR. 2014. Syrian Refugees, Inter-Agency Regional Update) The JG has used the expression no man’s land5 to identify the area where the 4,000 people were let stranded in order not to be accused of IL violations. But according to an old-time agreement that Jordan signed with the Syrian Government, this zone is under the JG’s jurisdiction even if there is not a physical presence of the JA. To define this area as no man’s land is not legally appropriate but permits the JG not to be bound by the IL and CIL to take on the responsibility and the burden of the people stranded in the area. As stated previously this situation is not new since the accumulation of Syrians on the borderline began at the end of 2013.
(…)What is new is the fact that the JG is not opening the border to let them in. In the past and until now they will let them build up (the number) and they will start letting they in. And once they were in they were not deported. So this is the new situation. The JG has incrementally stiffened and toughened border control for the past year and half. Combined with that are much tighter controls for refugees in the country. And the two things have been building up in parallel. This is a reality. (Interview ECHO)
Another reality is that all refugees that make it across the border are settled in the camps so as to avoid an overcrowding in the Jordanian host communities. Furthermore, it seems that in order to defuse tensions with Damascus, Jordan is nowadays deporting several opposition activists but the government and security sources have always denied any deportations.
Palestine Refugees from Syria (PRS)
Authorities began denying entry to PRS since April 2012 but the official policy has been publicly declared by Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour only on January 2013 during an interview with Al-Hayat. (Quoted in: Aaron Magid. 2014.) In accordance to the governmental decision the JA turns away Palestinians at the Jordanian border crossing points and detains and deports back those who try to enter the country at unofficial border crossings using forged IDs. Those who manage to enter illegally through smugglings’ networks, once discovered are also detained or deported back to Syria. (Interview UNHCR) Regarding the situation of PRS who hold Jordanian citizenship1 a distinction must be done. At the beginning they were allowed to enter the country but after a period, as the governmental policy became more restrictive, the authorities started denying entry to those with expired Jordanian documents and in some case have arbitrarily stripped PRS of their citizenship and forcibly returned them to Syria. These people once returned to their country face a terrible situation. They cannot re-enter Syria without valid identification and are constrained to live in a grey zone, often in the villages or mosques along the border, without access to humanitarian assistance. (Human Rights Watch. 2014.)
Palestinians entered legally in Jordan cannot live in the Syrian refugee camps and few agencies provide them with humanitarian assistance: they receive occasional money from UNRWA and most of the time refugees are constraint to work illegally to provide for their basic necessities. Those who manage to enter illegally cannot have residency papers and are at risk of exploitation. When facing abuses they cannot call on the JG’s protection because of the risks of arrests and deportations. The JG indeed detains people who enter the country illegally although detention is not recognized by UNHCR even when it is justified in terms of important national security reasons. Illegal entry does not give the state an automatic power to detain or to otherwise restrict freedom of movements. (UNHCR: DETENTION GUIDELINES. 2012.)
Prior to April 2012, once PRS arrived in Jordan, they were brought to temporary detention facilities and were checked by Jordanian officials through security screenings. After the screenings they were allowed to leave these centers through the bail-out procedure.2 Jordanian Security Services have not deported anyone of those who left the detentions before April 2012. (Human Rights Watch. 2014.) But starting from April 2012, more than only deny the Palestinians’ entry in the country, Jordan began also denying them to leave the facilities by bail-out procedure and began deporting others. Since April 2012 Palestinians in Cyber City, the main detention facility for PRS in Ramtha, are trapped. They are allowed to leave the camp only to return to Syria. (Human Rights Watch. 2014) According to UNRWA, in April 2014, Jordan was detaining circa 200 Palestinians at Cyber City, most of them since 2012. (UNRWA. PRS in Jordan)
Palestinians who entered irregularly after April 2012 and that are living in Jordanian cities without bail-out certificates are at risk of detentions and deportations. Police and Intelligence Services use different way to intercept them: raids, inspections where there are illegally workers and the document renovation’s procedure. Once discovered those people are hold in the police stations and after some days they are transferred to Cyber City or deported to Syria at unofficial border crossings to areas controlled by the FSA. (Human Rights Watch. 2014.)
Since July 2013 the situation got worse both for Palestinians still arriving from Syria and for those who were already living in the country. A new governmental procedure, concerning in an iris-scan biometric verification, has been implemented to identify PRS posing as Syrians.3 The policy has been introduced to prevent multiple registrations (Gaelle Sundelin. 2013) but it is a governmental tool used to discover those who managed to enter Jordan using forged documents. Refugees that do not apply for the re-verification procedure are automatically under suspicion as potential Palestinians posing as Syrians. As a result of the new procedure, the number of people arrested and deported back to Syria is hugely increased.
It is impossible to know the exact number of Palestinians who have been rejected at the border since April 2012 since no international Agency has full access to the unofficial border crossing points and no official data are available, but of particular concern is the fact that UNRWA-Jordan has documented different cases of forcible returns, including women, children and injured. (UNRWA. 2013. Syria Crisis Response Annual Report) The lack of data is also due to the fact that usually PRS do not approach UNRWA, because they do not have a legal status, and that UNRWA destroys from time to time its databases since the JG has free access to it.
The general motivation used by the JG to justify PRS’s rejection and deportation, besides the security concerns, is that their reintegration or resettlements in Jordan will both alter the demographic situation of the country and compromise Palestinians’ “right to return”.
The principle of Non-Refoulement
Asylum countries, although preserving their national sovereignty, represent also an expression of international sovereignty that submits the state to the respect of international treaties that it has previously and autonomously decided to ratify. As the analysis has showed, it results difficult to find a balance between humanitarian and security concerns because of the new international actors that threaten the global stability, and although states have tried hard to fix the gap between security and Human Rights, violations are always at risk.
The principle mostly violated in Jordan is the principle of non-refoulement. Even if the Kingdom is not part of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the principle of non-refoulement is recognized as CIL and it represents the cornerstone of asylum and International Refugee Law. It is compulsory and applies in all circumstances, including in the context of measures to combat terrorism. Moreover it applies both on the territory of the State and at its borderline and regardless of the refugees’ entry, be that entry legal or illegal.
The principle is re-called in several international treaties that Jordan ratified during the years such as the Memorandum of Understanding signed with UNHCR in 1998,1 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,2 the Convention against Torture,3 the 1966 ICCPR4 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.5Furthermore, the Declaration on the Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons in the Arab World reaffirms the importance of the principle prohibiting the return or the expulsion of a refugee to a country where his life or his freedom will be in danger and considers this principle as an imperative rule of the international public law.6
Since May 2010 Jordan is a member of the UNHCR’s Executive Committee (ExCom). In 1982 the UNHCR’s ExCom adopted Conclusion 25 in which is reaffirmed the importance of the basic principles of international protection and in particular the principle of non-refoulement which was progressively acquiring the character of a peremptory rule of International Law. Moreover the Conclusion 99 issued by the same institution in 2004 calls on states to (…) ensure full respect for the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, including non-rejection at frontiers without access to fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs. Finally, according to the UNHCR ExCom’ Conclusion 22 in 1981 that sustain that In situation of large-scale influx, asylum seekers should be admitted to the State in which they first seek refuge (…) at least on a temporary basis (…) and without any discrimination as to race, religion, political opinions, nationality (…), (Conclusion adopted by the Executive Committee on International Protection of Refugees, 1975-2009) it is possible to state that the current Jordanian border policy represents a double violation of that Conclusion. Indeed, even if the UNHCR on 27 February 2013 has defined the Syrian situation as a massive refugee exodus, (UNHCR. 2013. “Remarks to the United Nations Security Council António Guterres.”) both Palestinians and Syrians continue to be rejected on the borderline.
Besides the different international treaties and conclusions that reaffirm the importance of the non-refoulement principle, still on 20 April 2006 Jordan, by presenting its candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council, reiterated its commitments in the promotion and protection of Human Rights. It said: Over the last decades, the country has given shelter and protection to many waves of refugees; Jordan, as a long-standing host country, reiterates its commitment to fulfilling its obligations in accordance with the principles of international refugee law including those which are peremptory as well as international human rights law.( Letter from the Permanent Mission of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. 2006.) Moreover, again in March 2012, only one month before the implementation of the new rejection-policy towards PRS, before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination a Jordanian delegate stated that: (…) although his country was not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, it had always recognized and upheld the peremptory norms of international refugee law, notably the principle of non-refoulement. (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 2012)
With regard to the specific policy addressed to PRS, Palestinian cases of nationality’s revocation, detention and deportation represent violations of both the CIL and the Jordanian constitutional principles. In the Constitution of Jordan is stated that individuals who hold Jordanian citizenship may be neither detained nor imprisoned.7 Moreover no Jordanians may be deported or prohibited from residing at any place.8 The problem of the forcible confiscation of documents and of the consequently de-naturalization of citizens, can be analyzed referring to the Jordanian Law No° 6 of 1954 on Nationality that prescribes specific circumstances for denaturalizing a citizen. Between them: entering the service of an enemy state, or the military or civil service of a foreign state. In addition, Jordanian law does not permit to withdraw Jordanian citizenship from the children as a consequence of withdrawing it from their Palestinian origin fathers. (Human Rights Watch. 2014.)
Generally Jordan has never identified the menace to its internal stability and security in migration movements and refugees. Although the JG has many times been involved in Human Rights violations, it seems hard to state that the security concerns in Jordan are related to refugees and that there has been an attempt to link the refugee question to a problem of national security. Refugees in Jordan do not represent the direct threat to the state’s stability and do not represent the central problem but problems are related to refugees only in terms of the impact and influence that the external threats, particularly terrorism, have on migrations. Therefore, the source of the question has to be researched in the international events. Nowadays the main threat to Jordan is represented by the instability caused by the Syrian war: the rebels groups, the growth of ISIS inside the country and the infiltration of Assad’s regime collaborators. With regard to the accusations of Human Rights principles’ violations, it seems meaningless both to condemn Jordan and to justify the country because of security concerns. The balance cannot be found by choosing between two exclusive options. If Jordan does not preserve its internal security, it risks to collapse and to become a new state involved in the regional instability. The solution to the issue may better be identified in the management of number of refugees: if Syrians were offered the possibility to settle also in other countries, it would be possible for Jordan to speed its check procedures, to assure national security, protection to refugees and to comply with its international commitments. In conclusion, although the validity of the migration-security nexus is proved, as refugees can sometimes be involved with terrorist organization or belong to rebels groups, it seems that the securitization paradigm cannot be totally applied to the case of Jordan. If in some specific cases there has been an attempt to directly link refugees to national instability and to justify the border policies rejections in terms of security concerns, this behavior has never represented the norm, as the huge number of refugees hosted in the country demonstrates.