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Syrian visa restrictions "trap" Iraqi refugees

Laura Zuber, Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

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October 8, 2007

DAMASCUS, Syria – On October 1, Syria began imposing strict visa restrictions on Iraqis seeking to enter the country.  On September 1, Syria announced a new policy of restricting entry to Iraqis with visas issued by the Syrian embassy for economic, commercial, transport, scientific, and educational reasons.  However, Syria later announced that it was postponing enacting the policy until after the month of Ramadan.  Syrian officials offered no explanation as to why the restriction went into effect on prior to the end of Ramadan, which is October 12.

Fighting in Iraq has resulted in what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calls the biggest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the flight of the Palestinians in 1948.  The UNHCR estimates that 2.2 million Iraqis are displaced within Iraq and that 2.2 million have fled the country.  It is estimated that 1.5 million Iraqi refugees are residing in Syria and 750,000 in Jordan.  On September 1, when Syria announced that restrictions on entry were beginning on September 10, rate of entry of Iraqi refugees increased from 2,000 a day to 20,000.

Syria justifies the restriction on the basis that their small country’s economic system has been stretched to its limits in trying to assist the growing refugee population.  Syria’s pleas to the international community for monetary support have gone unheard.  In face of the international communities’ seeming indifference to the fate of Iraqi refugees, Syria decided to limit entry to Iraqi professionals – such as engineers, scientists, and professors. 

In a press briefing, the UNHCR spokesperson, Ron Redmond, stated that Syria’s new restrictions basically trap fleeing Iraqis.  In order to obtain a visa, Iraqis have to travel to Syria’s embassy in Baghdad.  The neighborhood in which the embassy is located is incredibly violent, exposing these refugees to unnecessary danger.  Requiring Iraqis to travel to Baghdad also prevents poor Iraqis, who cannot afford the trip, from obtaining proper documentation to enter Syria.  Prior to the restrictions, visas could be obtained at the border.  Also, restricting visas to economic, commercial, transport, scientific, and educational reasons, also forces many Iraqis to obtain a sponsor in Syria prior to applying for a visa.  However, UNHCR’s biggest criticism is that the restrictions excludes those fearing persecution and/or death.  UNHCR called on Syria to grant "humanitarian visas" to those whose lives are in danger.

Redmond stated that since the border restrictions have been imposed, the UNHCR office in Damascus has been flooded by Iraqi refugees concerned about their refugee status.  Many of the refugees hold three month visas to stay in Syria.  In order to renew it, they would have to visit offices near the border between Syria and Iraq.  The new restrictions cause many to fear that if they attempt to renew their visas, then they may be deported and forced to return to Iraq.  However, Redmond stated that from discussions with the Syrian government, UNHCR understands that Syria has no intention to forcibly deport any Iraqi refugee currently in Syria.

For more information please see:

International Herald Tribune – UNHCR: Syria promises not to expel Iraqi refugees by force – 5 October 2007

Middle East Times – Syria block on Iraqis cuts off last refuge says UNHCR – 5 October 2007

Reuters – Iraqis increasingly "trapped" – UN Chief – 5 October 2007

Reuters – UN presses Syria to allow  in more Iraqi refugees – 5 October 2007

UNHCR – Syria: UNHCR advocating for increased bilateral aid and 'humanitarian visas' for Iraqi refugees – 5 October 2007

BBC – Syria restores Iraqi visas limits – 2 October 2007

International Herald Tribune – Syria starts imposing visas restrictions on Iraqi citizens – 1 October 2007 

Time Magazine – Access denied – 26 September 2007

MSNBC – Iraqi refugees weighing down Syria – 21 September 2007

BBC – Syria visas "halt fleeing Iraqis" – 11 September 2007

International Herald Tribune – UNHCR says new Syrian visa rules blocking Iraqis from entering country – 11 September 2007 

Reuters – New Syrian visa requirement halts most Iraqi arrivals – 11 September 2007


:: Article nr. 37030 sent on 09-oct-2007 00:12 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=37030

Link: www.impunitywatch.net/impunity_watch_middle_eas/2007/10/syrian-visas-re.html



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