Feb 13, 2007

Safety Valve Closing For Iraqis

This is one of those developments that may augur ill for the already less-than-stellar political situation in Iraq.

Syria, the last Arab country to accept large numbers of Iraqi refugees, is now calling a virtual halt — with new rules aimed at curbing a flood that already has brought 1 million desperate people here.

Jordan and Egypt, with 700,000 and 130,000 Iraqi refugees respectively, already had previously signaled they would take no more, leaving the estimated 40,000 or more refugees who still flee Iraq each month with few places to go. ...

Syria has pledged to the U.N. that it will deport no Iraqis, the U.N. said last weekend — but fear among Iraqis here is widespread.

In practice, the new rules mean that many Iraqis will be forced to either leave Syria or stay on illegally, and that any Iraqi newcomers will find only a very brief haven.

All that has led the U.N. to urgently increase its calls for international help with the Iraqi refugee issue in recent days. ...

Several Iraqis told The AP in recent days that their visas have expired and that they are scared to go to the Syrian immigration department for fear of being deported — and plan to just stay illegally. ...

Khazaal Karim, who worked at the Information Ministry under former dictator Saddam Hussein, ... fears that if he returned, he would be killed like dozens of journalists in the past three years. His visa and that of his large family has expired but he, also, is scared of going to authorities.

"If I am forced to go to Iraq for a month, I will be dead for sure," he said.

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