RAMTHA — With little money and an uncertain future, there is little to distinguish Ziyad Daoud from the thousands of Syrians who have fled to Jordan to escape ongoing violence in their homeland.
Except for one: Daoud claims he is a Jordanian citizen.
“I was born in Jordan, my parents are Jordanian, I carried a Jordanian passport,” Daoud said.
“Personally and legally, I am a Jordanian.”
The cameraman, who was arrested and tortured by Syrian President Bashar Assad loyalists for refusing to film pro-democracy protesters, claims he is one of dozens of Palestinian-Jordanians who after years in Syria find themselves living as refugees in their former homeland.
While Jordan has followed a blanket open-border policy, having provided refuge and public services to over 120,000 Syrians crossing into Jordan, the alleged Syrian-Jordanian’s case is nowhere near as simple.
An interior ministry policy bars Palestinian refugees from Syria from entering the country, according to officials and the refugees, preventing those who have arrived illegally from leaving so-called holding centres — trapping dozens between violence in Syria and political sensitivities in Jordan.
Some 480 Palestinian refugees have fled from Syria into Jordan since Damascus’ launch of its military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters last year, according to UNRWA, with some 150 illegal arrivals currently residing at the Ramtha holding centre known as Cyber City.
Among them are some two dozens who either currently or previously carried Jordanian citizenship, according to relief agencies and security sources, many of whom carry documents ranging from birth certificates to national IDs supporting their claims — copies of which were shown to The Jordan Times through various interviews.
“We can’t go back to Syria and we can’t enter Jordan,” said Fadi, a former Daraa resident who claims that his pregnant Jordanian wife is waiting for his release at her parents’ home in Amman.
“It is as if we are living like ghosts.”
Syrian-Jordanians say they are aware of the ramifications of their presence — which Jordanian authorities fear may spark an influx of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Syria into Jordan — but urge officials to view their plight as a “humanitarian” rather than political issue.
“We are thankful of Jordan’s hospitality — they truly saved our lives,” said Um Samer, a Jordanian who has spent over one month in multiple holding centres with her Syrian husband.
“But right now we don’t want food, we don’t want shelter. We just want our dignity and a chance to see our family.”
According to UN officials, the “Syrian-Jordanians” have also fallen victim to UN bureaucracy, caught between the overlapping jurisdictions of UNRWA —the UN agency mandated to serve Palestinian refugees — and the UN Refugee Agency, which is spearheading the international response to the growing Syrian refugee crisis.
“It is as if this group has fallen through the cracks and now it is up to Jordanian authorities to solve,” said a UN source, who declined to be named.
“We would like to arrive at a solution that allows them to leave but that doesn’t threaten the political situation in Jordan; we have yet to find one,” the source added.
UN officials’ pledges are of little consolation to Abu Yousef, who shares a windowless room with his four sons as his relatives outside cover the monthly rent of a furnished west Amman apartment he reserved prior to his departure to Jordan.
The 52-year-old said his extended stay in Cyber City has forced him to abandon plans to helm several companies registered in his brother’s name — which range from a printing press to a ceramics quarry on the northern outskirts of Amman.
“We have entire lives waiting for us on the outside,” the father of five told The Jordan Times.
“But as long as we are here, everything is frozen.”
Red tape and Cyber City’s two-metre-high walls are all that is preventing Ziyad from accepting a long-delayed lunch invitation to his mother’s west Amman home.
“I don’t even want to leave, I just want her to see me with her own eyes and finally know that I am OK,” he said.
According to current security procedures, Syrians crossing into Jordan illegally must remain in the holding centres pending a guarantee signed by a Jordanian national assuming legal responsibility — a stipulation that can extend refugees’ stays in the facilities to several weeks.
Unlike the thousands of Syrians who have few roots or connections in Jordan, Palestinian refugees and alleged Syrian-Jordanians face little obstacle in securing a guarantee, with friends and relatives stretching from Ramtha to Aqaba willing and waiting to bail out their loved ones.
However, as of Tuesday, the Palestinian- and Syrian-Jordanian refugees are denied release even on a financial guarantee, a policy interior ministry sources attribute to “national security”.
“We have JD100,000 ready to pay the government; money is not an issue,” Abu Yousef said.
“We are just waiting for a political decision to let us go.”
With little sign the interior ministry is about to reverse its policy, the Syrian-Jordanians can only watch as hundreds of Syrians come and go — often on the very same day — as they to pace up and down the housing complexes’ hallways as Cyber City’s “permanent residents”.
Last week, a teenager attempted to shoot himself in a desperate attempt to bring public attention to this group’s plight, an incident residents and security sources say marks the third such attempt in little over a month.
“Every day that passes, it feels more and more like we are prisoners,” said Ahmed, who is awaiting security clearance to travel to a Ramtha hospital to undergo a long-delayed surgery on his bullet-riddled leg.
“Mentally and emotionally, people can no longer stand it.”
Residents have gone on multiple hunger strikes, and even called on their relatives to rally outside Cyber City’s gates to press for their release.
Yet despite their acts and the lobbying of relatives, Palestinian-Syrians and alleged Jordanians say they have little hope that their lives in limbo will be resolved in the near future.
“Even though we made it across the border to Jordan,” Abu Yousef said as he ran wooden prayer beads through his thumb and index finger, “we still have yet to return home.”