Syria: UNHCR advocating for increased bilateral aid and 'humanitarian visas' for Iraqi refugees
Our field staff in Damascus confirm that the new visa restrictions for Iraqis wishing to enter Syria are being strictly observed. Since the visa restrictions were imposed on Monday, the only Iraqis who have succeeded in crossing the border are those who have been issued visas for commercial, transport, scientific and education purposes.
In order to apply for a visa, Iraqis are obliged to visit 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. UNHCR has received reports that the visas take two weeks to process. At present visas are only granted to people who are applying for commercial, scientific, educational and transport purposes. In many cases, a sponsoring organization in Syria (for example the Syrian Chamber of Commerce), is needed to issue an invitation to Syria. UNHCR is advocating for a 'humanitarian visa' for Iraqis fleeing persecution in Iraq.
Since Monday, UNHCR in Damascus has counselled hundreds of Iraqi refugees living in Syria who have either visited our office or phoned the UNHCR hotline with concerns about their residency status. The number of calls to the UNHCR hotline has doubled in one week.
From discussions with government officials, UNHCR understands that Iraqi refugees currently living in Syria will not be forcibly returned to Iraq. The most pressing concern for Iraqi refugees at present is what they should do when their visa expires. In the past, they would visit the Syrian border to renew their visa for three months. UNHCR hopes Syria could establish centres within the country where refugees could renew their visas.
The Syrian government has made it clear that the visa restrictions have been imposed due to the massive pressure it faces hosting more than 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.
In a separate development on Thursday, the second group of Palestinians from Ruwayshed camp in Jordan left to be resettled in their new homes in Brazil. Thirty-six Palestinian refugees left the desert camp in Jordan, leaving one last group of 37 refugees to follow later this month. The Palestinians, who have been stuck in extremely harsh conditions in the camp for four and a half years, were relieved as they said goodbye to the remaining Palestinians in the camp who had also fled spiralling violence in Iraq.
All 108 Palestinians being resettled from Ruwayshed will be living in São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul regions, where they will receive rented accommodation, furniture and material assistance. Employment profiles are being analyzed to ensure job opportunities for all, while Portuguese classes will be given. UNHCR is very appreciative of Brazil's offer of humanitarian resettlement.
More than 1,750 Palestinians remain stranded in Al Waleed and Al Tanf border camps and the situation remains dire for them. UNHCR continues to appeal for urgent humanitarian solutions for these refugees.