Obama should ask Jordan to take more Syria refugees: rights groups

BEIRUT Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:06pm EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Barack Obama should urge Jordan not to discriminate against refugees crossing its borders from Syria when he meets King Abdullah, said two U.S. rights groups on Thursday, who say Palestinians living in Syria are often refused entry.

Jordan has given refuge to more than 360,000 Syrians but "routinely and unlawfully" denies entry to many, Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic said in a statement.

Palestinians who lived in Syria are regularly turned back by Jordanian border guards, the groups said, as are single Syrian men and refugees who arrive without identity cards.

By refusing entry to refugees, Jordan was sending many people back into areas where their lives were in danger, the groups said.

"Discriminating against Palestinians and single males as ineligible to seek asylum within Jordan violates Jordan's international legal obligations," said Meera Shah, clinical advocacy fellow at the Harvard Clinic.

"Jordan should treat individuals in these categories the same as all other asylum seekers fleeing the fighting in Syria."

Obama is expected to meet Jordan's King Abdullah on Friday on the final leg of his four-day tour of Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Before the start of Syria's two-year civil war, around 500,000 Palestinian refugees lived in the country. Many of their neighborhoods have been center of fierce battles in cities such as Damascus and have been exposed to heavy shelling and bombing.

The rights' group statement cited the case of a Palestinian man forced out of a detention center in Jordan and arrested after he returned home to Syria. His body was later dumped in the street, baring gunshot wounds and signs of torture.

Many Palestinians from Syria have headed to Lebanon instead. Palestinians who seek asylum in Lebanon are allowed to cross but must pay a visa fee of about $17 dollars, the statement said, a payment not required of Syrian refugees.

Nearly half a million people sought asylum in the developed world last year, a 10-year high, with the sharpest rise in requests from Syrians fleeing war and persecution, the United Nations said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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