BEIRUT -- Jordan has denied entry to "hundreds, if not thousands," of refugees fleeing the fighting in neighboring Syria, Amnesty International said Thursday.
In a 40-page report, the rights group accused the Jordanian government of discriminating against certain categories of refugees, including stateless Palestinians and Iraqi nationals. Amnesty International also charges that Jordan has sometimes closed the border to refugees and that hundreds have been forced to return to Syria from Jordanian territory.
"It is unacceptable that scores of people from Syria, including families with small children seeking refuge from the fighting, are being denied admission by neighboring countries," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, who cited similar restrictions in other nations bordering Syria.
The Jordanian border policies and ongoing fighting in frontier areas have left thousands displaced “indefinitely” along the border, Amnesty International said.
Although the refugee influx has placed an “enormous strain” on Syria's neighbors, Luther said, their presence “should not be used as an excuse for denying people entry or forcibly returning people to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria.”
In Amman, Jordan's capital, officials insisted that their nation’s open-door policy toward Syrian refugees had not changed.
"Our policy remains the same: Refugees who reach our border are allowed in, and we will continue this policy in accordance with international law," government spokesman Mohammad Momani said by telephone from Amman. "What can one say to this report when countries around the world continue to commend Jordan because of its policy?"
Jordan, which shares a 200-mile border with Syria, is hosting more than half a million refugees, according to the United Nations.
Activists near the unofficial Tal Shehab crossing with Syria, about 55 miles north of Amman, reported Thursday that the border was open.
"We just received word that they're allowing Syrian refugees to come through,” said an activist in the town of Irbid, who declined to give his name for security reasons.
Although the report focuses mainly on Jordan, Amnesty International says other neighboring nations also have restricted entries of refugees from Syria.
The Syrian conflict, now in its third year, has left more than 100,000 people dead and displaced more than 4 million Syrians, according to the United Nations. In addition, 2 million war refugees have fled Syria, mostly to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
Bulos is a special correspondent.