GENEVA (AFP) — Syria's decision to enforce new restrictions on Iraqi refugees this week has effectively cut off the last outside haven for people fleeing violence in Iraq, the UN refugee agency said Friday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged other countries to provide more support for Syria, which is facing massive pressure to deal with 1.4 million Iraqis already inside the country.
"Until now the expression of international solidarity ... has been completely out of proportion to the dimension of the crisis," High Commissioner Antonio Guterres told journalists.
He called on countries to increase bilateral aid to Syria and Jordan, noting that "unfortunately not very much has been done until now."
Under the restrictions imposed on Monday, only Iraqis with visas issued by the Syrian embassy in a fraught area of Baghdad for commercial, transport, scientific and education reasons are being allowed into the country.
"The vast majority are commercial truck drivers," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters.
"This does effectively close the last external refuge for Iraqis."
Jordan has taken in 750,000 Iraqi refugees but recently tightened border controls and said it was also examining visa restrictions.
About 30,000 Iraqis fleeing violence had settled each month in Syria, according to the UNHCR.
Redmond said there were no immediate signs of a build up of would-be refugees at the border.
However, people displaced inside Iraq had started to gather in a number of "spontaneous sites" instead of being abosrbed in local communities, he said.
Redmond also highlighted the growing flow of Iraqi asylum seekers to Europe.
Damascus had initially announced the visa requirement would be enforced from September 10 but temporarily dropped it as a goodwill gesture to allow Iraqi families to meet during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The UNHCR said it had received assurances from Syrian officials that Iraqis already inside the country would not be forcibly returned.
"We have to recognise that Syria has accepted an enormous burden and they have done so for three years," Redmond said.
"They treat Iraqis as guests; they deserve more support from the international community in taking care of these people," he added.
The UNHCR is calling on Syria to grant new arrivals from the most violent central and southern areas of Iraq temporary protection, while accepting that people from northern Iraq can be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
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