AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan is discriminating against Palestinians seeking refuge from violence in Syria by forcibly returning new arrivals and threatening others with deportation, a rights group said Wednesday, prompting denials from Amman.
While the New York-based Human Rights Watch praised Jordan's admission of some 140,000 Syrian refugees, the report said that officials have arbitrarily detained Palestinians in a holding center without any options except to return to Syria.
It also claimed that since April, Jordanian authorities have automatically detained all Palestinians who enter Jordan illegally without the possibility of release.
Jordanian Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah dismissed the allegations as "totally baseless."
"Jordan did not close its doors in the face of any refugee from Syria. Part of those I'm talking about are Palestinians who carry travel documents," he told The Associated Press.
HRW's report could not be independently verified. The Palestinians are living in a heavily-guarded housing complex near the northern border, 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the Jordanian capital.
Jordan already hosts 2 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants who fled or were driven out of their homes in Arab-Israeli wars.
HRW researcher Gerry Simpson said a dozen Palestinians, including women and children, were detained recently for months with no possibility of release. Nine others said they or relatives had been deported or threatened with deportation.
"There can be no excuse for deporting people to a situation where there is a real risk to their lives," Simpson said. "The authorities should issue clear orders to security officials on the border to protect anyone crossing from Syria who is seeking asylum in Jordan."
Human Rights Watch has called on Jordan to treat Palestinian residents of Syria the same as Syrian refugees.
But Maaytah insisted that Jordan does not discriminate against the Palestinians coming from Syria.
"There are hundreds of them in the northern area in Jordan. They are provided with all the living needs, just like the Syrians," he said.
"They're given residence, food, health and other services. All the conditions that apply to the Syrians, apply also on all others, including the Palestinians. Nobody was deported, interrogated or detained. Jordan is allowing them in on humanitarian grounds. "
Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby contributed to this report.