Turkey has started implementing visa restrictions for Syrians entering the country by air or by sea as part of its efforts to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.
As Ankara has reversed a six-year agreement that allows visa-free entry to citizens of both Syria and Turkey, Syrians arriving in Turkey by air and sea from other countries need visas as of Jan. 8, 2016.
The visa restrictions won’t apply to Syrian refugees who cross the Syrian-Turkish border by land to flee the conflict in Syria. The move aims to stop Syrians from flying into Turkey from other countries and illegally trying to reach Greece and other European nations.
Previously, Syrians were able to enter Turkey without visas and according to most recent numbers, Turkey is home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile, nearly 400 Syrians heading to Turkey via Lebanon spent the night at the Beirut airport after new Turkish visa regulations left them stranded, authorities said on Jan. 8.
The group arrived in Beirut from Syria on Jan. 7 and had been set to board two Turkish planes for Istanbul, a security source told Agence France-Presse (AFP). But they “spent the night in the airport after the two Turkish planes failed to transport them” due to technical and logistical failures, said Mohammad Shahabeddine, the head of Lebanon’s civil aviation service. Shahabeddine said Lebanese airport authorities had scheduled extra flights prior to Jan. 8 in order to accommodate large groups of Syrians attempting to take advantage of the remaining days of visa-free entry. But the group of nearly 400 missed the deadline and were forced to return to Syria, Shahabeddine added.
While announcing the new regulation in late December, Turkish officials underlined that Turkey would, however, continue its “open door policy” as a humanitarian consideration for Syrians entering Turkey’s land borders and would not ask Syrians arriving this way to hold visas.
At the time, Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, underlined the number of Syrians entering Turkey from other countries has been on the rise recently, with an increasing number of Syrians trying to enter with fake passports, particularly from Egypt and Libya.
On Jan. 7, the European Union said Turkey is not doing enough to decrease the flow of migrants.