UN refugee agency appeals for ‘humanitarian’ visas for Iraqis fleeing to Syria
Responding to Syria’s strict adherence to new visa restrictions for Iraqis wishing to enter the country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today urged the creation of a “humanitarian” visa for Iraqis fleeing violence in their homeland.
Since visa restrictions were imposed on Monday, only Iraqis with visas for commercial, transport, scientific and education purposes have been successful in crossing the border to Syria, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.
To apply for these visas, Iraqis must apply at the Syrian Embassy in the Al Mansour district of Baghdad. “Refugees have highlighted their concern that Al Mansour district is the scene of frequent violence, and not an area that large groups of people should gather,” Mr. Redmond said.
In many instances, a Syrian sponsoring organization, such as the Syrian Chamber of Commerce, is necessary to procure a visa to enter the country.
Syria has stated that the visa restrictions are a result of the massive pressure placed on the country as it hosts over 1.4 million Iraqi refugees. “UNHCR continues to appeal for increased bilateral support to Syria so it can continue to support the Iraqi refugees living in the country – and hopefully offer refuge for those Iraqis that need to flee Iraq in the future,” Mr. Redmond said.
Since the new restrictions took effect, the number of phone calls to UNHCR in Damascus has doubled, with the agency having counselled either in person or over the phone hundreds of Iraqi refugees living in Syria regarding concerns over their residency status.
“From discussions with Government officials, UNHCR understands that Iraqi refugees currently living in Syria will not be forcibly returned to Iraq,” Mr. Redmond noted.
But Iraqi refugees are worried about their status after their visas expire. In the past, the documents could be renewed at the Syrian border for three months, and UNHCR said it hopes that Syria can establish such offices within the country for refugees to renew their visas.
In a related development, UNHCR said the second group of Palestinians – who were forced to flee their homes in Iraq – from Ruwayshed camp in Jordan let yesterday for resettlement in Brazil. Almost 40 Palestinians, who have been living in harsh conditions for more than four years, left behind 37 others who will join them in South America later this month.
All 108 Palestinian inhabitants of Ruwayshed camp will move to Sao Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul regions, where they will receive accommodation, furniture, material and employment assistance, as well as Portuguese language classes.
“UNHCR is very appreciative of Brazil’s offer for humanitarian resettlement,” Mr. Redmond said.
Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to appeal for urgent solutions for over 1,750 Palestinians are still stranded in Al Waleed and Al Tanf border camps and are living in dire conditions.