Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Report: Syria tightens access for Iraq refugees under new rules

A refugee and her child at a displacement camp. Some displaced children are now joining militias for protection or revenge.

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria, the last Arab country welcoming large numbers of Iraqi refugees, is now all but closing the gates and leaving 40,000 Iraqis who flee their country each month with almost no place to go.

The new rules — imposed without any official announcement — also strike fear of deportation into the 1 million Iraqis already here. The worsening humanitarian crisis has resulted in calls for action by members of the U.S. Congress and a plea from the United Nations for more countries to help out.

"It's not fair that the burden is not being shared effectively. A very limited number of countries is paying a very heavy price," Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said on a recent tour of the Mideast.

Syria kept its doors open even after others, including Jordan and Egypt with 700,000 and 130,000 Iraqi refugees respectively, said they could take no more. But the strain on its small, state-controlled economy apparently has become too great.

Until last week, Iraqis could come to Syria without a visa and stay for up to six months. At that point, they could drive to any border, leave briefly and re-enter immediately and stay for another six months — meaning they essentially were allowed to stay indefinitely.

But Iraqis in Syria say they now receive only a 15-day permit to stay when they enter, after which they must apply for a three-month permit that can be renewed only once. After six months, any Iraqi not a student or without a job or business must leave Syria for at least 30 days before being allowed back in.

From the Montreal Gazette

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