AMSTERDAM/Istanbul - Turkey has tightened its visa rules for Iraqi citizens as a sign of its ‘determination to fight illegal immigration,’ the foreign ministry said Saturday.
Under previous rules , Iraqi citizens were able to enter Turkey by obtaining sticker type visas at Turkish borders, valid for 30 days. Now Iraqi nationals will have to pre-apply for either an electronic or a paper visa to enter the country, the ministry said in a statement.
‘The said changes have been made in line with our country’s determination to fight illegal immigration,’ it said. Those who hold a valid visa or residence permit issued by the US, UK, Ireland or a Schengen country will be able to travel to Turkey with only an electronic visa . But those who don’t will now have to apply for a visa online and then obtain it from a Turkish diplomatic consular mission, the ministry said.
‘With the new regulation, sticker rules have been abolished,’ it added. Turkey , which is sheltering 2.7 million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has become a hub for migrants seeking to move to Europe. The country is hosting another 300,000 Iraqi refugees. Ankara reached an agreement with the European Union in November to stem the flow of migrants bound for Europe in return for three billion euros ($3.2 billion) in financial assistance.
But the agreement has so far failed to check the tide of arrivals. ‘Turkey needs to adopt the same visa policy as EU otherwise it won’t be possible to decrease the flow of migrants,’ French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Thursday in Greece. Moreover, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reaffirmed Saturday his country would keep its ‘open border policy’ for Syrian refugees, saying as many as 55,000 people fleeing a new regime offensive were heading toward the frontier.
Cavusoglu told reporters after a meeting with his EU counterparts in Amsterdam that there had been no change in Turkish policy. ‘We still keep this open border policy for these people fleeing from the aggression, from the regime as well as air strikes of Russia,’ he said. ‘We have received already 5,000 of them; another 50,000 to 55,000 are on their way and we cannot leave them there,’ he said.
Reports from the border Saturday said Turkey was preparing for a new influx, trying to find space in existing refugee camps for new arrivals as loyalist forces close in on rebels in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city.
Turkey already hosts more than two million people who have fled the war in Syria. EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said foreign ministers had reminded Cavusoglu of Ankara’s international obligations towards refugees and of the help Brussels was providing to help cope with the problem.
‘We discussed this with our Turkish colleague remembering the fact that there is first a moral if not a legal duty ... to protect those in need of international protection,’ Mogherini told a closing news conference.
‘It’s unquestionable that the people coming from inside Syria are Syrians in need for international protection.’ ‘On top of that, this support that the EU is providing to Turkey ... is aimed exactly at guaranteeing that Turkey has the means, the instruments, the resources to protect and to host people seeking asylum,’ Mogherini said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a Syria donors’ conference in London on Thursday that Ankara would allow the refugees into the country. More than a million migrants landed in the 28-nation European Union last year, most of them crossing into Greece from Turkey , and then making their way through the Balkans to Germany and other northern member states.
Such numbers have put huge strains on the bloc and the Schengen passport-free zone, with several countries - among them Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden - re-introducing border controls while Brussels struggles to find a comprehensive solution. In November, the EU thrashed out a deal with Turkey , offering 3.0 billion euros ($3.35 billion) to help care for the refugees on its soil and speeding up long-stalled accession talks in return for Ankara’s help in curbing the migrant flows.