Creating new perspectives since 2009

Iraq Kurdistan region suspends entry visas for Syrians

April 3, 2024 at 4:56 pm

A man holds Syrian passports as he waits at a border crossing on 19 December, 2012 [JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images]

Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region has suspended the issuing of entry visas for Syrian citizens, in a decision that has sparked fears of potential humanitarian consequences for Syrians seeking shelter in the region.

According to the news outlet, Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, unnamed security sources in the city of Erbil revealed to it that the autonomous region’s authorities have decided to implement measures to curb the entry of Syrians into Iraqi Kurdistan, such as prohibiting work and tourism visas for young adults aged between 18 to 40.

Prior to Erbil’s decision, the Kurdistan region enabled Syrians to obtain visas for a fee of up to $170, which allowed one month’s residency and the chance to extend it for another month, with Syrians having been able to gain residency for an entire year. It was only the Kurdistan region which recognised that residency, however, with federal Iraqi authorities having the power to arrest Syrians who left that northern region for other areas in Iraq.

This latest decision by Iraqi Kurdish authorities was reportedly finally taken at the behest of Iraq’s federal government, which aims to regulate foreign labour and particularly the influx of undocumented Syrians to cities within Iraq for work.

OPINION: Will Iraq regain its glory?

It comes months after Syria’s regime cancelled entry visas or security clearance for Iraqis intending to visit Syria, with Iraq, in turn, suspending visa issuance for Syrians two months ago.

Rather than merely being part of Baghdad’s efforts to regulate foreign labour within Iraq, though, there are concerns that it could cause humanitarian impediments for Syrians by restricting their ability to enter Iraqi Kurdistan to seek refuge and work.

According to Aso Hawramani, an activist from the autonomous northern region, the move is “inhumane” as it neglects the plight of Syrians seeking medical treatment and protection under the United Nations in the region.

There is also the issue of potentially forcefully deporting Syrians in Iraqi Kurdistan – numbering hundreds of thousands – against their will and legitimate needs, with a survey by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) having revealed that over 92 per cent of Syrians in the region not wanting to return to Syria due to fears regarding safety and the lack of livelihood.

The decision may also be the result of Iraq’s talks with Turkiye over the region’s security situation, with Baghdad last month agreeing to Ankara’s demands to ban the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist group. The suspension of entry visas for Syrians, therefore, could potentially be an effort to crack down on the entry of suspected Kurdish militants entering the region from north-east Syria, an area controlled by Kurdish militias allegedly linked to the PKK.

OPINION: Unlike Iran and Turkiye, Iraq and Syria are vulnerable to Kurdish separatism