Syrian Refugees Stream Into Iraq, Reversing Flow of Previous Years

Article Summary
Years after Iraqi refugees streamed into Syria seeking shelter from violence, the flow has reversed, with Syrians fleeing their own conflict to relatively calm Iraq. Omar Sattar reports that government officials in the Nineveh and Anbar provinces are calling for new procedures for refugees, and Nouri al-Maliki has offered his private jet to fly Iraqis home.

Iraq's Anbar province has formed a crisis cell to regulate the entry of Syrian refugees to the border area of ​​Qaim. Nineveh Province also announced yesterday [25 July] that it had received its first displaced Syrian family.

Othman Tamir, mayor of the town of Rawa, said in a statement, “During our visit to the border crossing at Qaim, we observed the entry of around 400 Syrian refugees. The entry process was unorganized and did not facilitate the affairs of the refugees.”

Tamir added, “International law defines [forced] displacement, alongside ways to deal with it and the responsibilities incumbent upon the international community.” He noted that “following standard [entry] procedures with refugees, as if they were ordinary travelers, is not right or acceptable,” adding, “First, we suggest that the names of the refugees be registered on special lists, after which they should head directly to buses to be transferred to the refugee camp.” He expressed hope that “things would go more smoothly,” calling on humanitarian organizations to “contribute to solving this serious humanitarian crisis.”

Local authorities in Nineveh province said that the border area of Rabia, which is adjacent to the Syrian Yaribiyah crossing, received yesterday the first Syrian family taking refuge in Iraqi territories. They added that the family will be transferred to a refugee site supervised by the Red Crescent.

In a phone call with Al-Hayat, governor of Nineveh province Atheel al-Nujaifi said that “Yaribiyah crossing will be officially opened in the next few hours after it had been closed by the Syrian government.” He noted that a number of Iraqi families are stuck at the crossing and awaiting permission to enter. Regarding the Syrian refugees, Nujaifi said that “the border-crossing points between Nineveh province and Syria are closed, but humanitarian aid will be provided to Syrian refugees who are fleeing the violence in their country.”

The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that “Iraqis in Syria are being subjected to acts of violence and extortion by criminal gangs.”

The ministry added: “The Council of Ministers has been following the developments in Syria and accessing the conditions of the Iraqi community living there. It has been shown that a number of Iraqi citizens are being subjected to acts of violence and extortion by unknown criminal gangs.”

The ministry expressed its hope for “finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and that Iraqis would no longer be targeted, because they are not a party to the ongoing [conflict], but are merely temporary guests in Syria and in no way involved in the current events or biased toward any party.”

The ministry also called on the Iraqi community to “voluntarily return to the homeland,” vowing to “provide all the necessary means for their return.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Iraqis living in Syria to return to Iraq, saying those from the opposition who were not involved in shedding the blood of innocent people would be forgiven. Maliki formed a committee, headed by Transport Minister Hadi al-Amiri, to facilitate the return of Iraqi citizens. He also put his private jet at the committee’s disposal.

Found in: syrian, nineveh, crisis cell, crisis

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