IRAQ-JORDAN: Visas to control flow of Iraqi refugees

Iraqis fleeing their country’s sectarian violence and wishing to enter Jordan will be required to obtain visas, Jordanian officials told IRIN on 18 September. But it is not clear when the new requirement will take effect.

The measure is meant to regulate the flow of refugees and allow security personnel to conduct thorough checks before allowing anyone to enter the country, said Ziad Zubi, a spokesman of the Interior Ministry.

“A decision has been taken to require that Iraqis have visas, but it is not clear when it will be implemented because an agreement must first be signed between Jordan and Iraq,” said Zubi.

Government spokesman Nasser Judeh said the new measure would hopefully facilitate things for both sides: “We have considered many options to regulate the entry of Iraqis and found this one is the best,” he said.

Over the past four years, 700,000 Iraqis have entered Jordan in search of refuge after life became impossible in violence-afflicted Iraq.

Security concerns

Jordanian officials are concerned the violence might spill over into the kingdom. Two years ago Iraqi suicide bombers blew themselves up in a triple attack on Amman hotels, killing 60 people and injuring 100 others.

Jordan afterwards imposed strict regulations on its borders to avoid similar incidents. Iraqis aged 18-45 were barred from entering and officials made sure fewer Iraqi Shias crossed the border.

Iraqis are sometimes forced to wait for hours at the mercy of border officials: Some are allowed in and given refugee status while others are refused entry. To many Iraqis, the decisions seem arbitrary.

“There are no clear criteria followed on the border. You could be an old woman or a 15-year-old boy and still be turned away, or permitted to enter,” said Sattar Abdul Wahed, an Iraqi refugee who used to work as a taxi driver between Amman and Baghdad.

Iraqi ambassador to Jordan Saad Hayani did not expect the visa requirement to affect the number of Iraqis entering Jordan.

He said some Iraqis had been stranded at the border with Jordan for hours and sometimes even days before being denied entry to the kingdom. “We want this kind of treatment to stop. It’s better for Iraqis to show up at the border with a green light to enter instead of going through all the hassle and then being sent back,” said Hayani.

Another door closed

“It is clear that Jordan does not want to allow in more Iraqis because too many have entered. But is it our fault for being targeted by militias or even the Iraqi government?” said Abdul Sattar Jabbar, an Iraqi businessman living in Amman.
It is clear that Jordan does not want to allow in more Iraqis because too many have entered. But is it our fault for being targeted by militias or even the Iraqi government? 

Jabbar said many Sunnis would not want to visit the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad for fear of being kidnapped or killed by Shia death squads who control the roads leading to the embassy.

“With the requirement that Iraqis have visas, another door will be closed in our faces. We do not know where to turn,” he said.

Syria, which hosts some two million Iraqi refugees, has said it will require Iraqis to have visas once Ramadan is over around 13 October.

Jordan had asked the international community to help it cope with the situation, saying its fragile economy had been hit badly, with the estimated cost of hosting the Iraqis mounting to over US$1 billion.

Jordan is not the only neighbouring country to have imposed visas on Iraqis – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran have required visas from Iraqis for years.

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