Syria began requiring visas for Iraqis entering the country Monday, hoping to stem the flow of refugees fleeing violence in their homeland, a Syrian official said.
An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis have already fled to Syria, at a rate that increased after Jordan began imposing its own strict visa restrictions on Iraqis.Â
The two countries have repeatedly appealed for financial help, saying the refugees are burdening their security, health, and education infrastructure.Â
Syria originally announced on Sept. 1 that it would impose the visa requirement in 10 days. It later said the change would be postponed until after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends around Oct. 12.Â
But the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the requirement instead began Monday. He gave no explanation.Â
The United Nations’ refugee agency said its representatives at the Al-Tanaf border crossing said only “commercial drivers received visas at the border” Monday. The agency, UNHCR, called on Syrian authorities to give “humanitarian” visas for Iraqis.Â
Since the new visa requirement was announced, Iraqis have flooded into Syria at 10 times their normal numbers, a Syrian customs official has said. More than 20,000 Iraqis were crossing the border every day, compared to only 2,000 a day normally, the official said.Â
More than 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the violence engulfing their country, most to Syria and Jordan.Â