Jordan should facilitate travel for Palestinians seeking to travel from Gaza to third countries, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today to Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour. A recent apparent tightening of criteria for transit has blocked access to professional and educational opportunities abroad, including for Gaza’s young people struggling with the effects of an Israeli-imposed closure.
“Jordan has gone to great lengths to accept and meet the needs of large numbers of refugees from across the region,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Since last August, however, Palestinians from Gaza have found it increasingly difficult to get permission to transit through Jordan to travel abroad, without any explanation for the change.”
For at least the last decade, the Gaza Strip has been mostly closed. Israel does not allow Gaza authorities to operate an airport or seaport and limits travel via the Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel to “exceptional humanitarian cases.” Egypt, which controls the Gaza Strip’s other land border, opens the Rafah Crossing just a few times per year, allowing for only 9 percent of Palestinians’ travel needs, as measured in the first half of 2013, when Rafah was open regularly. As a result, Palestinians in Gaza are virtually barred from traveling abroad.
Human Rights Watch has documented how these restrictions violate Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the right of Palestinians in Gaza to freedom of movement, and that Egypt’s measures have unjustifiably increased the restrictions on freedom of movement.
As an exception to its no-travel rules, Israel allows up to 100 Palestinians from Gaza to travel abroad each week by crossing from Gaza to Israel and then the West Bank and Jordan, including students and professionals seeking opportunities abroad. Most have visas to a third country and/or foreign residence or citizenship.
Until recently, Jordan played a helpful role in facilitating this travel. Subject to a security screening, Jordan’s Interior Ministry routinely issued “no-objection” letters that permitted Palestinians from Gaza to transit from the West Bank to foreign countries via Jordan. However, since August 2015, individuals, lawyers, and human rights organizations have found that such request have largely been refused by Jordan or received no response.
Before August, said the human rights group Gisha, which assists residents of Gaza seeking Israeli permission to travel, it was hearing of virtually no refusals. From August through January 2016, however, 58 people contacted Gisha for help, saying their requests for Jordanian permission to transit had been rejected or that they had received no answer. For these students, professionals, and family members, the refusal meant they could not travel. Palestinian and foreign educational institutions told Human Rights Watch that they too were unable to get Jordanian permission for students and faculty to transit through Jordan. Even senior businesspersons reported being unable to receive permission.
In one case that Human Rights Watch documented, a young woman missed an opportunity to attend a computer application competition in Qatar because her request for transit via Jordan went unanswered for months. In another case involving a research assistant employed by Human Rights Watch, the request was refused with no explanation. Two weeks later, following Human Rights Watch’s intervention, the Jordanian authorities approved the request, which was helpful but raises questions about why she was refused in the first place.
Human Rights Watch asked Jordan to facilitate transit for Gaza residents. The Jordanian authorities should also ensure that their decisions are transparent, are not arbitrary, and take into consideration the human rights of those affected, Human Rights Watch said. In cases of refusal, it said, the authorities should give reasons and give applicants a chance to request reconsideration.
“Those seeking transit from Gaza are seeking just that – transit,” Whitson said. “Jordan certainly should control its borders but it should continue to recognize the special duties it has toward those whose freedom of movement from Gaza it has facilitated until now.”
The Jordanian Authorities have not responded to the Human Rights Watch letter.