AMMAN — Three Syrian military pilots entered the Kingdom last month as part of a daily influx of hundreds of displaced Syrians, the government said on Sunday.
“There was no arrangement for the arrival of those three pilots, who arrived over a month ago. The government had no hand in their decision but its our responsibility to make sure they are in safety like any other Syrian refugee who is already in the country,” Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Samih Maaytah told The Jordan Times.
Last week, the government granted political asylum to a Syrian pilot who landed his MiG-21 fighter jet at the King Hussein Air College in Mafraq, 80km north of Amman.
According to military sources, the plane was escorted by Royal Jordanian Air Force fighters soon after it entered Jordanian airspace and was guided to the air base where it landed safely.
Syrian state television named the pilot as Colonel Hassan Hamada, saying communications were lost with his plane while he was on a training mission near the border with Jordan.
Later, Hamada was described as a traitor by the Syrian defence ministry, and the US welcomed the development, Reuters reported.
Maaytah added that over a week before his arrival, Hamada had sent his family into the Kingdom without any previous coordination with the government, adding that they are all together in safety.
A Syrian opposition activist told the Jordan Times on Sunday that Syrian forces had attacked Hamada’s house and set it ablaze. The activist spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation from the Syrian authorities.
Meanwhile, British Ambassador to The Kingdom Peter Millett denied news reports that the UK had approaching the government to offer Hamada asylum.
“There is no truth to this story. We welcome the fact that Jordan has given the pilot asylum. There are no discussions about asylum in the UK,” Millett said in an email sent to The Jordan Times on Sunday.
According to interior ministry statistics quoted by the UN, over 140,000 Syrians have crossed into Jordan legally and illegally since Damascus’ launch of a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in March 2011, a number the UN Refugee Agency says is rising by some 300 per day.
Of the total, some 26,000 have registered as refugees — a number expected to hit 30,000 by the end of the month — in yet another sign that displaced Syrians are preparing for an extended stay in the Kingdom.