Iraqi government calls for refugee visa fine waiver

An Iraqi refugee looks out over Amman. Of the estimated two million Iraqis who have fled their homeland, some 700,000 are currently sheltering in Jordan, with the majority living in Amman.
(P.Sands/UNHCR)

Iraqi government officials are trying to persuade their Jordanian counterparts not to impose fines on Iraqi asylum-seekers who have overstayed their visitors’ visas - in a bid to ease their financial plight and encourage them to return home, officials from both sides said.

"Certainly the high fines imposed on the poor class of Iraqis in the kingdom represent a major obstacle to their return," the Iraqi ambassador to Jordan, Saad Hayani, told IRIN.

He said the Iraqi government was discussing with Jordan's Ministry of Interior the cancellation of the fines, but the Jordanian position was not yet clear on the issue.

"We have not reached an agreement but hopefully in the near future an announcement will be made," he said.

Jordan's immigration law stipulates that for every year a resident overstays their visa he or she must pay up to US$761.

Hayani said most Iraqis faced having to pay large sums because most were in the country illegally.

''Certainly the high fines imposed on the poor class of Iraqis in the kingdom represent a major obstacle to their return.''

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have flocked to Jordan since the 1990s when the international community imposed economic sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Many more followed after the US-led invasion and the ensuing instability in various parts of the country - either to live in the kingdom or move to a third country for resettlement.

There are 450,000-500,000 Iraqis living in Jordan, most of whom live on savings, according to a study last year by the Oslo-based organisation, Fafo.

Iraqi officials are increasingly concerned that many who have no regular source of income will find it very difficult to pay the required amount.

Few have valid visas

Only about 22 percent of the poorest in the Iraqi community in Jordan had a valid residence permit, the study revealed.

Over the past five years, the Jordanian authorities have exempted illegal Iraqi residents from paying fines in a bid to encourage them to obtain legal residency or leave the country.

But the government said Iraqi migrants were placing an added burden on the struggling economy and crumbling infrastructure.

Immigration rules stipulate that whoever is caught without a legal permit should be deported on the spot, but Ministry of Interior officials and Iraqi residents say police refrain from deporting Iraqis out of humanitarian concern.

A senior source at the Interior Ministry told IRIN on condition of anonymity that the recently improved ties between Amman and Baghdad were expected to lead to a cancellation of the fines.

Interior Ministry officials were unable to disclose the total amount of money in fines owed by Iraqis, but it is believed to be tens of millions of dollars.

mbh/ar/cb


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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