World Refugee Survey 2009: Jordan
Jordan hosted approximately 621,600 refugees, including 450,000 from Iraq. While it also hosted nearly 2 million Palestinians, all but 171,400 held Jordanian citizenship and USCRI did not count them as refugees.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was assisting 65,000 of the Iraqi refugees by the end of 2008.
2008 Events Summary
During 2008, Jordan detained more than 350 refugees registered with UNHCR, deporting 48. Thirteen detainees also left the country allegedly of their own volition. Of the others, it released 290 on bail, and held 2 at year’s end.
In February, Jordan offered to waive fines for overstaying visas for Iraqis who opted to return to Iraq or travel to third countries, while giving those who chose to remain until April 17 to pay their fines, eventually extending that deadline for a month. By July, officials reported 3,000 had left the country, while 12,000 paid the fines and remained.
In May, Jordan launched a new visa policy for Iraqis, making it more difficult for them to enter the country (see below). Through mid-July, Jordan granted visas to 17,000 Iraqis and denied 6,000 (at that time, it had 4,800 applications still open).
Rising food prices forced UNHCR to cut back on the caloric content of the food parcels it provided refugees, from 1,300 calories per person, per day, to 1,100 by early July. The cost of a food package for a family rose from $70 in 2007 to $113 in 2008. Many NGOs working with Iraqi refugees were also giving 20 to 30 percent of their aid to poor Jordanians.
In October, 100 Iraqis took advantage of a free flight back to Iraq paid for by the Iraqi government.
In November, UNHCR and UNICEF gave Jordan roughly 8 million dinars to assist its health, education, and water systems.
Law and Policy
As of May 2008, Jordan requires Iraqis to apply for visas before traveling to Jordan, rather than obtaining them at the border. Iraqis can apply at Jordanian missions abroad or at the offices of the international courier TNT, which has 13 locations within Iraq. TNT charges applicants 15,000 Iraqi dinars (about $13). Jordan has essentially barred single Iraqi men between 17 and 35 years of age from entering the country since November 2006, and also requires Iraqis to present the newer, and harder to obtain, G-series Iraqi passport to enter the country.
Jordan generally does not deport those it detains for offenses under the Foreigners Act, including working illegally and overstaying visas.
Policies toward deportees are inconsistent. Officials stamp the passports of some with marks banning them from reentering the country for variable periods of time, ranging from less than five years to life. Officials allow some potential deportees who have overstayed their visas to pay a fine of 1.50 dinars (about $2) per day that they have overstayed in order to avoid deportation. Others have to pay the same fine to avoid having their passports stamped, which allows them to reenter the country more easily.
If UNHCR is aware of a recognized refugee among the deportees, Jordan delays the deportation until UNHCR find a resettlement country willing to accept the deportee.
Jordan is not party to the 1951 Convention and has no refugee law, but its 1952 Constitution prohibits extradition of “political refugees … on account of their political beliefs or for their defense of liberty.” According to a 1998 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), asylum seekers can remain in Jordan pending status determination, and UNHCR-recognized refugees can remain six months after recognition, during which time UNHCR has to find resettlement countries for them. This is not always possible, but the Government generally does not deport them.
Jordan’s 1973 Law of Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs requires that those entering the country as political asylum seekers must present themselves to a police station within 48 hours of arrival. There are no further provisions on who is eligible for asylum or how they can go about obtaining it. The law grants the Minister of the Interior the authority to determine on a case-by-case basis whether persons will be deported. Jordan’s labor law also authorizes the Minister of Labor to deport foreigners working without permission.
Detention/Access to Courts
The International Committee of the Red Cross has access to all detention facilities and makes regular visits. Jordan’s Law of Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs mandates penalties of one to six months’ detention and fines of 10 to 50 dinars (about $14 to $71) for illegal entry, but theoretically exempts asylum seekers from such penalties. Officials also have the option to deport detainees or grant them residency. To release a refugee on bail, a Jordanian citizen has to leave his or her identity card, along with the detainee’s passport, with the police.
The 1952 Constitution promises all persons protection from arbitrary detention or imprisonment, but refugees and asylum seekers cannot challenge administrative detention in court and bail is available only in court-ordered detentions with judges’ discretion. The Constitution reserves to nationals the right to equal treatment before the law but the MOU and Jordanian law provides for refugees’ and asylum seekers’ access to courts and legal assistance on par with nationals. Few asylum seekers avail themselves of this because of their lack of legal residence.
UNHCR issues a series of identification cards of different colors and types to refugees and asylum seekers, all stamped by the Jordanian interior ministry and good for six months. Applicants awaiting their first interviews receive orange cards, while recognized refugees receive blue. Once applicants have their interviews, UNHCR issues asylum seeker certificates, but these explicitly state they are not permits for work or residency. UNHCR also issues special letters to those set for resettlement. Authorities are inconsistent in recognizing these documents, but UNHCR makes efforts to educate officials about them.
To obtain legal residency from the Government, Iraqis have to deposit and maintain approximately $150,000 in a bank account or possess major business investments in the country.
Palestinians displaced from Gaza in 1967 hold temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers, which are valid for two years.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
There are no official restrictions on the residence or movement of refugees in Jordan, but under the Law of Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs, all foreigners have to notify the authorities of their residence and any movement. Authorities have reportedly tried to block Iraqis from visiting shrines dedicated to historical Shi’a figures by barring a bus company from transporting them.
Jordanian law mandates that the government shall grant international laissez-passes to “refugees recognized as such.”
Gazans hold temporary Jordanian passports renewable every two years, as well as cards for crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, subject to Israeli closures and other restrictions. Refugees registered with UNHCR do not have access to international travel documents.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
It is difficult for refugees with residence permits to work legally and virtually impossible for those without them, including many asylum seekers.
The 1952 Constitution reserves the right to work to citizens. The 1996 Labor Law requires non-Jordanians with legal residency and valid passports to obtain work permits from the Ministry of Labor showing that the job requires experience or skills unavailable among Jordanians, with preference to Arabs but with no exceptions for refugees and asylum seekers. The law requires employers to pay a fee, and the permits are valid for one year or less, but are renewable. Violators are subject to cumulative fines and expulsion of the foreign worker at the employer’s expense.
In addition to work permits, foreigners wishing to practice professions have to obtain the certification of Jordanian professional societies, which grant it based on reciprocal privileges in the foreigners’ home countries. Many Iraqi doctors work without the approval of the Jordanian Medical Association at lower wages than Jordanian doctors receive.
According to Jordanian courts, a legal employment contract between a Jordanian and a foreigner protects the basic rights of the foreigner in cases of exploitation, but few sign such contracts with Iraqi workers.
All bearers of temporary passports, including Palestinians displaced from Gaza since 1967, have to obtain permits to work legally. Palestinian refugees holding temporary Jordanian passports can work for the Government only on a contractual basis.
Jordanian law does not permit foreigners to join unions but its labor laws do generally apply to noncitizens. Access to social security benefits depend on reciprocal privileges in the worker’s country of origin, rendering stateless Palestinians ineligible.
The MOU provides that a legally resident refugee can work “for his own account whenever the Laws and regulations permit” and conditioned the right to practice professions on the same requirements.
According to Jordan’s Investment Promotion Law, foreigners cannot own more than a half-interest in enterprises in mining, trade and retail, and construction contracting. Temporary passport holders have to obtain ministerial permission and find a Jordanian partner to own property. Although the 1952 Constitution protects the property of all persons from arbitrary expropriation or confiscation, few refugees take advantage of these restricted rights largely due to their lack of residence status.
Public Relief and Education
All foreigners in Jordan, including refugees and asylum seekers regardless of their legal status, have access to Jordan’s public health system at rates subsidized by the Government. The Government covers 80 percent of the cost for insured Jordanians, 70 percent for uninsured Jordanians, and 60 percent for foreigners. In November 2007, UNHCR and Jordan signed an agreement granting Iraqis access at the rate for uninsured Jordanians.
The 1952 Constitution reserves the right to free primary education to nationals, but beginning in August 2007, Jordan opened its schools to Iraqi children at the request of King Abdullah II. Iraqis still have to pay school fees—20 dinars (about $28) for primary school, 30 (about $43) for secondary school, and 40 (about $57) for vocational education—and buy books, uniforms, and other supplies. In November, the Government allowed Iraqis access to homeschooling and other nonformal education.
Palestinians from Gaza holding temporary Jordanian passports have to pay school fees in foreign currency where applicable and a fee for medical services. Public hospitals and health centers treat patients regardless of status, but non-Jordanians pay higher fees than citizens do. UNRWA operates 24 medical clinics inside and outside the refugee camps.
Children of Palestinians from Gaza holding temporary Jordanian passports can enroll in Jordanian schools. Additionally, UNRWA operates 180 schools and two vocational training centers for Palestinian refugees. Universities, however, restrict foreign students with quotas and require them to pay twice as much as Jordanians.
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