Afraid of proposed new visa restrictions, Iraqis flooded into Syria at 10 times their normal numbers earlier this month until the measures were postponed, a Syrian customs official said Thursday.
More then 20,000 Iraqis were pouring across the border every day, compared to 2,000 a day normally. The large influx began Sept. 1, when Syria announced that visas would be required to enter the country, the official told reporters touring the remote Tanaf desert border crossing.
On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said the visa requirement would be postponed until after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends around Oct. 12.
After the announcement, the number of Iraqis entering Syria dropped to its usual number, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
More than 2 million Iraqis have fled the violence engulfing their country, most to neighboring Jordan and Syria.
With Jordan imposing its own strict visa restrictions on Iraqis, Syria has increasingly borne the brunt. Officials say the 1.5 million refugees are a heavy burden on the country’s health and education resources.
“I came from Baghdad with my wife and my daughter, fleeing the violence and lack of security,” said Mohammed Saadallah as he crossed the border. “I know of no state more secure than Syria to flee to, this is why a large number of Iraqis come to Syria.”
Samira Ali Hassan crossed the border clutching a picture of her son who had been murdered by militants Saturday.
“I came to Syria to save my other son after he was threatened,” said the resident of Baghdad’s Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.