Deportations from Jordan have spiked in recent months, with entire Syrian families sent back for the first time, including large numbers of children, two international aid officials said as quoted by Associated Press on Friday.
One official said that more than one-third of several thousand refugees who went back to Syria between January and April were forcibly deported, while others returned voluntarily, the AP reported.
The international group Human Rights Watch said it has documented “numerous cases” since 2014 of Jordan forcibly returning Syrian asylum seekers to Syria. In many cases, the deportations violate international law which bars returning people to situations where they face danger or persecution, said Lama Fakih, deputy director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa division.
Turkey and Lebanon, two other main refugee host countries alongside Jordan, have also deported asylum seekers, she said.
A Jordanian government official confirmed that deportations have taken place, but said refugees are only sent back on security grounds, after an investigation. He would not give a total since the beginning of the year.
The official and the aid agency employees spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deportations, a contentious issue between Jordan and the international community.
Returning refugees to war zones violates international law, especially when it is done without due process and includes family members, said Jeff Crisp, a former official at the U.N. refugee agency.
According to the AP report, at least five million Syrians fled their country since the outbreak of conflict there in 2011. Close to 660,000 are registered as refugees in Jordan.
Syria’s neighbors have effectively closed their borders, overburdened by the initial influx of refugees and wary of risks to security.
Donors and aid groups rely on Jordan’s goodwill to operate there and have limited leverage when trying to prevent deportations, especially given the growing threat of IS, which controls part of Syria and Iraq.