Syrians return disappointed from Erbil after residency permit suspension

Workers inside a restaurant in Erbil city - 2024 (Screenshot/YouTube)

Workers inside a restaurant in Erbil city - 2024 (Screenshot/YouTube)


Enab Baladi – Linda Ali

In search of a better future and to escape political and economic crises, Syrians travel to new lands, paying steep prices, even if it means selling everything they own, including their homes.

After 2014, the number of Syrians leaving Syria for European countries increased. Recently, these countries have taken new measures to prevent migrants from arriving.

Given the decisions by European Union countries and the high risks of migration, Syrians turned to other countries in search of job opportunities and better economic lives.

One of these countries was Iraq, particularly the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region, which, along with Dubai, witnessed a large influx of Syrians.

As much as Syrians established economic and investment projects in the city, the recent decisions by the region not to renew residency permits for young Syrians and not to issue entry visas have led many to lose everything that represented a hope for better conditions.

Deportation and loss

Jaafar (24 years old) lost 22 million Syrian pounds due to his deportation from Erbil, after approximately a month and a half of arriving there.

Jaafar, who spoke to Enab Baladi, arrived at what he described as the “land of Syrian dreams” (Erbil) one day before a decision was issued to stop issuing residency permits for Syrians.

Jaafar arrived in Erbil on April 1st, and the following day, a decision that shocked many young Syrians was issued, causing them to return after losing their families’ financial savings.

Jaafar recounted the details of what happened to Enab Baladi. After persistent requests, his father agreed to sell a small house the family owned on the outskirts of Latakia to finance his trip to Erbil, promising to send them monthly money to help in their lives instead of the house rent.

The family sold the house and gave Jaafar 25 million pounds, and bought the remaining amount in gold coins to preserve what was left of their savings, planning to buy a new house once their son started working there.

After arriving in Erbil, Jaafar found work in a construction workshop but did not stay there for more than a month, which is the same duration as his entry visa.

The employer refused to keep him employed as it was against the law, and Jaafar tried to stay hopeful of regularizing his status, but expenses kept rising, which eventually forced him to return to Syria loaded with dreams and promises.

Jaafar said he was greatly exploited as soon as his visa expired; the landlord doubled the rent from $150 to $300 to allow him to stay illegally, while no hotels accepted him for the same reason, forcing him to stay with friends for 15 days.

In the end, Jaafar lost hope and decided to return to Syria to avoid increased fines for overstaying. He paid $15 for each day of delay on the visa that did not exceed one month.

Currently, the young man has no idea what to do next. He has no money to finance a trip to the UAE, and Lebanon is unsuitable for work. He is trying to return to the fast-food restaurant he worked at before traveling, with a salary not exceeding half a million Syrian pounds.

The Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq had issued a decision to suspend granting entry visas to all Syrians, whether single or families, shortly after suspending visas for singles in April.

Traveling on debt

On the same return flight was Hassan (27 years old), who was also unlucky in staying in Erbil, with the difference that he did not know how he would help his father repay the loan in foreign currency.

Hassan’s father borrowed $1500 from his brother to help Hassan, a graduate of the Arabic language department from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Al-Baath University in Homs, central Syria.

Hassan told Enab Baladi that he was supposed to work to repay the amount in foreign currency, according to his uncle’s terms. Now, the family does not know how to repay the loan; the only way is to sell the small plot of land they own along with their house in Homs.

Hassan paid $200 for the outbound flight ticket, $165 for the return ticket, $170 for the visa, and about $500 in late fines for staying there for nearly a month illegally after his entry visa expired and he did not obtain a work permit.

Under the new decision, Syrians in Erbil were unable to regularize their status and convert their visas to permanent residencies, which required them to leave or be considered illegal.

The number of Syrians in Erbil is estimated at around 265,000. Until recently, Erbil was considered a preferred destination for its ease of access and lack of significant racism towards Syrians. It was also a safe haven for most young Syrians hoping to escape poverty and find better job opportunities, even though the average salary for most Syrians there did not exceed $300 for workers.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Erbil, Dubai, and Cairo represent a glimmer of hope for Syrians wishing to improve their conditions, given the closed prospects for a political solution in Syria or an improvement in economic and living conditions in the country.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 16.7 million people in Syria require humanitarian assistance, an increase of 9% from 2023.

In a report published last January, the UNHCR stated that the crisis in Syria continues to affect millions of people’s lives, the security situation in parts of the country is unpredictable, the economy continues to deteriorate, and the earthquake in February 2023 further worsened the situation within Syria.

The number of affected people in Syria is approximately 6.8 million internally displaced persons, 155,000 internally displaced returnees, and 37,000 refugees returning to Syria, in addition to 16,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Syria.

In June 2023, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) revealed that about 90% of Syrians live below the poverty line, and more than 15 million Syrians require humanitarian aid.

Syria is one of the six countries with the lowest food security levels globally. The number of people experiencing food insecurity is 12.1 million (more than half the population), with 2.9 million facing severe food insecurity.

The World Food Programme (WFP) announced the end of its general food assistance program across Syria starting last January due to a lack of funding. It will continue supporting families affected by emergencies and natural disasters through “smaller, more targeted emergency interventions,” without specifying the nature of these interventions.


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