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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Iraqis face Syrian visa demands
Iraqis hold up their passports at the UNHCR registration centre in Duma, near Damascus (23 April 2007)
Syria is struggling to cope with the massive influx of Iraqi refugees
Syria will require visas from Iraqis wishing to enter the country for trade, economic or educational purposes from September, Iraqi officials have said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was informed of the new measure by his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallim, in a telephone conversation on Thursday.

Syria had been the only country in the region to allow Iraqis to enter and stay up to six months without a visa.

The UN refugee agency says 1.4 million Iraqi refugees are living in Syria.

With the number increasing by an estimated 30,000 every month, Syria's health and education systems are struggling to cope.

The Syrian government estimates the Iraqi refugee crisis is costing it around $1bn a year.

During a visit to Damascus earlier this month, Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, pledged to help deal with his country's displaced citizens.

A statement by the Iraqi foreign ministry said: "Minister Muallim clarified that the Syrian government had decided to start the work of entry visa system to Iraqi citizens as of 10 September 2007 to those who are going for economic, trade and educational purposes."

The ministry said Mr Muallim had asked the Iraqi government to co-operate in this matter.

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