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Syria's pending visa rule prompts an influx of Iraqis

Since the measure was announced, the daily refugee flow has risen to more than 20,000.

September 21, 2007|From the Associated Press

TANAF, SYRIA — Iraqis spurred by a planned visa requirement flooded into Syria at several times their normal numbers this month until the measures were postponed, a Syrian customs official said Thursday.

More than 20,000 Iraqis were crossing the border every day, compared with the normal rate of a few thousand.

The large influx began when Syria announced that visas would be required to enter the country, the official told reporters touring the remote Tanaf border crossing.

The Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the visa rule would be postponed until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which will end around Oct. 12.

After the announcement, the number of Iraqis entering Syria dropped to its usual number, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media.

More than 2 million Iraqis have fled the violence engulfing their country, most to neighboring Jordan and Syria.

With Jordan imposing its own strict visa restrictions on Iraqis, Syria has increasingly borne the brunt. Officials say the 1.5 million refugees are a heavy burden on the country's health and education resources.

"I came from Baghdad with my wife and my daughter, fleeing the violence and lack of security," Mohammed Saadallah said as he crossed the border. "I know of no state more secure than Syria to flee to; this is why a large number of Iraqis come to Syria."

Samira Ali Hassan crossed the border clutching a picture of her son, who had been killed by militants Saturday.

"I came to Syria to save my other son after he was threatened," said Hassan, who had left her home in Baghdad.

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