New rules a ‘death sentence’ for Iraqis

Iraqis fleeing their country’s sectarian violence are finding it much harder to get into Jordan and Syria, after the authorities in these countries recently began implementing much stricter border controls.

Jordan and Syria have been the only of Iraq’s neighbours to open their doors to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on the move. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that there are up to 700,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan and from 500,000 to one million in Syria.

Other countries which share borders with Iraq - such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and Iran – have allowed very few Iraqis in.

Now, with new entry conditions in place in Jordan and Syria, tens of thousands of refugees are stranded on Iraq’s borders and families are being divided according to their age and the type of passport they hold.

“My brothers were told that their passports were forged and were sent back to Baghdad. I do not know what will happen to them. It is no longer safe there because Shia groups attack people on the spot,” said Mohammad Qadiri, who comes from the troubled, mostly Sunni Al Adhamya neighbourhood of Baghdad. He arrived in Amman with his wife and two sons on Wednesday after enduring a painstaking trip on a hazardous desert road.

To enter Jordan, Iraqi refugees must be aged over 40 or less than 20, must prove that they have sufficient funds to support themselves while staying in the kingdom and, most importantly, must hold a new ‘G’ generation passport.

There are no official figures on the number of Iraqis who have been denied entry to Jordan, but a Jordanian interior ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity said more than half of those who attempted to enter had been denied.

Officials at the Karamah border post, 250km east of Amman and where Qadiri crossed through to Jordan, said they did not to recognize his brothers’ passports as the they were from the older ‘S’ series.

The ‘S’ generation of passports were issued by the Iraqi authorities upon the collapse of former President Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003. However, they were recently cancelled on the grounds that they could be easily forged.

Now, Iraqis wishing to leave their country, or go abroad from Jordan, must have the new ‘G’ series, which, made in Germany, are much harder to forge as they involve the taking of iris scans, thumbprints, and personal signatures.

But the new passports are said to be very difficult to get hold of, not least because the Iraqi Ministry of Interior is allegedly controlled by Shia militia.

Bribes for passports

“Those who can make it to the ministry unharmed must first cough up a large amount of money as a bribe to get their documents approved,” said Qadiri, who had to pay US $2,000 to get a passport.

“People who follow the usual procedures must queue in long lines, become vulnerable to suicide attacks and wait for months to obtain their passports," he added.

The new Jordanian restrictions also affect those Iraqi refugees who are already in the kingdom. Jordan’s interior ministry said it will no longer renew residency permits for those holding the ‘S’ generation passports. These new measures will be implemented as of next week.

The Jordanian official said the new measures were part of a security strategy to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into the kingdom.

“Let’s not forget that those who blew themselves up in the hotels in 2005 carried fake passports,” said the official. “Now we have to be careful about who we let in our country because we do not want another tragedy.”

On 9 November, 2005, at least 60 people were killed and nearly 100 injured when three Iraqis blew themselves up in three hotels in Amman.

In addition to security concerns, Jordanian officials have said they can no longer handle the influx of refugees without international assistance. Last month, the Jordanian government said it will start a nationwide survey to determine the number of Iraqis in the country and their influence on the already fragile economy.

Iraqis in Jordan now face an uncertain future as they scramble to get new passports. An Iraqi embassy official in Amman told IRIN on Thursday that the Iraqi government plans to provide the embassy with 10 ‘G’ generation passports a week. But the embassy is facing an almost impossible task in meeting the needs of more than 700,000 Iraqis, the majority of whom hold the older version of passports.

“We tried to persuade Jordanian officials to delay the implementation of the law until we can renew all the passports of Iraqis but they refused,” said the Iraqi embassy official.

As a result of these new measures, many Iraqis will be forced to return to their country in order to get the right passports and then attempt to re-enter Jordan.

Human rights activist Cathy Breen, who has been engaged in a number of aid programmes for the Iraqi community in Amman, said sending Iraqis back to Baghdad to get new passports is like sentencing them to death. She said those who return have no guarantee that they would be allowed to re-enter Jordan.

mbh/ar/ed