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Friday, February 09, 2007 

US talks to Syria about refugee crisis - UN promises Iraqis won't be sent home

Just days after the major protests in Damascus over the refugee crisis, there have been some important developments.


Photo: John Wreford. The sign reads: "How can we return and the violence is still there?"

The US and Syria are talking - for the first time in years. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says she has authorised negotiations to 'launch a new initiative' to help Syria deal with the flood of Iraqi refugees (lets hope it is more sucessful than their previous 'initiatives').

They will apparently talk about co-operation on refugee issues, and speeding up processing of refugees - to get them from Syria to America more easily.

It all comes from a change in Syrian visa laws. Until now, Arab citizens had been exempt from rules allowing visitors to stay for just 15 days. But strained under the weight of one million Iraqi refugees, Syria finally changed the rules, to make Iraqis subject to the normal limits. Syria has taken half of all the people who have fled Iraq.

Finally, America has accepted responsibility for part of the mess they have caused in Iraq, by talking with Syria about the refugee crisis they have imposed on Damascus.

Let's just hope they are talking WITH and not just talking AT Syria.

The last time there were any positive words between Washington and Damascus was in September when Syria foiled a terrorist attack on the US embassy.

UN PROMISES IRAQIS WON'T BE SENT HOME

The other major development is a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has thanked Syria for taking in such a large number of Iraqis. And they say Syria has promised not to send anyone back to Iraq despite the change in visa rules.

He made the annoucement in the Damascus suburb of Sayda Zeinab, one of the main destinations for Iraqis arriving in Syria.

Guterres has also visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - both of those countries have banned refugees from entering.

It seems people power works.

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