Monday, February 05, 2007

Iraqi refugees in Damascus protest Syria's visa restrictions

DAMASCUS, Syria: About 200 Iraqi refugees staged a sit-in outside the offices of the U.N. refugee agency in this capital city on Monday to protest Syria's treatment of Iraqi refugees.

Iraqi government officials allege that Damascus is making problems for Iraqi refugees by restricting visa regulations. A government spokesman said last week that Iraqis going to Syria only were given 15-day entrance visas and some were having to leave the country for at least 30 days before being allowed to return.

The Syrian government has dismissed accusations that it is treating Iraqi refugees unfairly. The government has not confirmed whether it has placed new visa restrictions on refugees but has said it has taken some measures to deal with the influx of Iraqis. The government has not provided details about those measures.

Waving Iraqi flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Iraqi refugees gathered in front of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees building in Damascus to protest what they say is unfair treatment.

"The Iraqis in Syria are the victims of deportation," one banner read. Another said "Going back for one month means death."

Ahmed Saeed, 34, an Iraqi refugee who has been living in Syria for three months, said he will is refusing to go back to Iraq.

"My son was kidnapped and I paid US$20,000 in ransom to secure his release," Saeed said. "My brother-in-law was killed three months ago and my house was totally destroyed. I have nothing there. ... I don't want to return."

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

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