Amman: Jordan has toughened its screening procedures for Syrian refugees, refusing entry to dozens as the number of individuals submitting false asylum claims is on the rise, government and UN officials said on Tuesday.

Under the new procedures, individual Syrian males with residency permits elsewhere are barred entry, a government official said, insisting on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

He said dozens coming from third countries have been turned back over the past few weeks.

The Interior Ministry estimates some 125,000 Syrians have come to Jordan since the outbreak of violence in their country in March 2011. Some cross the northern land border directly and others enter by air via Gulf states, Turkey, Lebanon, or elsewhere.

Syrian dissidents say the Jordanian move was prompted by security concerns, mainly the possible entry of those affiliated with the Hezbollah, an ardent critic of the kingdom’s moderate policy of peace with Israel and strong ties with the United States.

“Many spies belonging to [Syrian President] Bashar Al Assad’s regime are also believed to have entered Jordan in recent weeks,” said a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army in Jordan.

He said Jordan was also banning who could be considered as a vocal critic of Al Assad’s regime in order to protect its business ties with Syria. He also spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity.

Syria is one of Jordan’s largest Arab trade partners, with bilateral trade estimated at $470 million (Dh1.72 billion) last year. Also, 60 per cent of Jordanian exports of mainly fruits and vegetables are routed through Syria for onward shipping to Turkey overland or to Europe via Syria’s Mediterranean coast.


Food and cash aid

The government official denied there were political reasons for the new procedures. “This is totally baseless,” he said.

He added that Jordan is concerned over a larger influx of individuals seeking to take advantage of its open border policy and assistance programme. Once in Jordan, Syrian refugees are allowed access to food and cash aid, public education and health care and the prospect of being resettled in a third country in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Western nations.

Andrew Harper, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan, said refusing an individual entry to the kingdom because of doubts over eligibility for refugee status “falls entirely within Jordan’s rights as a state” under a 1951 UN convention on refugee status.

“We understand Jordan’s concerns, but we want to make sure that it also fulfils its international obligations,” Harper said in a telephone interview.

“We have seen 125,000 Syrians enter Jordan not only because of the violence, but for a variety of reasons. Some of them are not very clear and some are questionable,” he said. “We have to make sure that those seeking protection and international assistance are actually in need.”

Despite the tougher vetting, Jordan is keeping its northern borders open, receiving an average of 150 Syrians per day, according to Interior Ministry figures and relief workers.