BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Turkey has restricted entry visas for Iraqis in a bid to limit foreign fighters reaching its territory and stem the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe.
The European Union is banking on Turkish help to alleviate its worst migration crisis since World War Two, which saw more than a million people, including tens of thousands from Iraq, make the short sea crossing between Turkey and islands belonging to EU member Greece.
Turkey has also been a transit point for fighters joining Islamic State, which controls part of the southern border with Syria.
As of Feb. 10, Iraqis can no longer obtain visas upon arrival and must now apply online, according to information obtained from the Turkish embassy in Baghdad on Sunday.
They must also undergo an interview at a Turkish mission in Baghdad or Erbil; those with a valid EU Schengen area visa or an entry visa or residency for the United States, Britain or Ireland are exempted. There are no fees.
“Thousands of Iraqis remain in Turkey illegally or try to emigrate (to) the West illegally and (the) number of Iraqis detained for their suspected connection to the Daesh terrorist organization is considerable,” Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq Faruk Kaymakci said in a statement, referring to Islamic State.
Although over a million people have already crossed into Europe, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week said he had told EU officials the time could come when Turkey would “open the gates” for migrants to travel to Europe.
More than a year after Islamic State seized a third of Iraq’s territory, threatened to overrun the capital and declared a modern caliphate, a pervasive sense of hopelessness has pushed many Iraqis to join the exodus last summer from neighboring Syria and other conflict zones across the Middle East.
Yet thousands of Iraqis who arrived in Europe last year have withdrawn their asylum requests and return home voluntarily, citing family issues and a slow application process.
Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Toby Chopra