Source AP ©

Iraqis now need visas to enter Syria

In an attempt to stem the steady flow of Iraqis fleeing their war-torn nation into their western neighbor Syria began requiring visas for Iraqis entering the country Monday.

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.

The two countries have born the brunt of the wave of refugees fleeing Iraq's turmoil. They have repeatedly appealed for financial help, saying the refugees are burdening their security, health, and education infrastructure.

Syria had originally announced on Sept. 1 that it would impose the visa requirement in 10 days. But it later postponed the move, saying it would wait until after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends around Oct. 12.

But the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for not being authorized to speak to the media, said the requirement began Monday. He gave no explanation why the postponement was reduced.

A customs official at the Yaaroubiya border crossing some 780 kilometers (485 miles) northeast of Damascus said by telephone Monday that "no Iraq entered the crossing today."

After word of the impending visa requirement was announced last month, Iraqis flooded into Syria at 10 times their normal numbers in the past few weeks, 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.

More than 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the violence engulfing their country, most to neighboring Jordan and Syria.

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