As refugees surge, some Syrians turned away from Jordan
AMMAN, Jordan -– When Hamid, a Syrian writer living in Jordan, decided to leave his home here in the Jordanian capital for a short trip to Paris, he worried about rumors that Syrians were being kept out of Amman. He wanted to be sure he wouldn’t face any problems coming back from France.
"On the way out, I asked the border policeman about it. He said, ‘You will not have any troubles,'" Hamid recalled. "He lied."
Despite being told he would have no difficulties, Hamid, was stopped for four hours at Queen Alia International Airport and interrogated about why he wanted to come to Jordan. An intelligence officer told him to go to Beirut, Cairo or Istanbul instead, he said.
"Jordan became like a huge prison. You are not able to get in or out. Every day we are hearing about dozens of Syrians stopped at the border," said Hamid, 35, who had left Syria in November after security forces started asking about him at his home. He decided to seek a new life in Jordan with his wife.
Jordan has been praised for welcoming tens of thousands of fleeing Syrians. The United Nations refugee agency has registered roughly 35,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, but there are reported to be far more Syrian refugees along its borders, upward of 140,000 people. The latest round of violence has sent thousands more Syrians streaming to the Jordanian border, seeking help.
Jordan has agreed to create camps to house the swelling numbers of refugees, including one camp already in the works in northern Jordan that could hold up to 113,000 people. But the crisis seems to have tested Jordanian officials' patience, as Syrians report being turned away.
Hamid says his wife called "the right people" and he was eventually allowed in. At least four other Syrians who were detained with him were not, he said, including a Syrian woman whose husband lives in Jordan. He said she was sent back with her little boy.
His story echoes that of other Syrians. Alaa, a 26-year-old Web developer living in Lebanon, said he spent 10 hours in the Amman airport before being sent back to Beirut. Several other Syrians were singled out from their planes and sent back to Aleppo, Alaa wrote in a blog post.
Wael, a Syrian musician who says he was also turned away from Jordan, warned Syrians on his Facebook page to avoid the Amman airport. "All Syrians [with me] were sent back to where they came from with few exceptions," he wrote.
A border policeman at the Amman airport confirmed that Syrians have been turned away from Jordan, especially young men. "People are not allowed in. It depends on the day. There is no official decision, just instruction," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Jordanian attitudes toward Syrians appear to have shifted "from sympathy to pity and finally to aversion," Hamid said. "There are fears from contamination of protests. Widespread protests -- this is what Jordanian authorities are afraid of. They are trying to get Syrians under control."
A Jordanian who gave her name as Rafah, whose Palestinian family first arrived as refugees decades ago, said she believes Jordanians are simply exhausted by the burden of handling so many refugees.
"We are a small country living off aid. The country has no resources," she said. "When the Iraqi refugees came, prices went up. Now Syrians are arriving and people are getting tired."
-- Rima Marrouch. Emily Alpert in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Photo: An elderly Jordanian man greets his Syrian niece and her family for the first time in 30 years after the family fled from Dara, Syria, and arrived at a refugee camp in Ramtha, Jordan, on Tuesday. Credit: Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press