Syria tells UN it won't force Iraqis to go home

Syria will not force any Iraqi staying here to go back to Iraq despite the exchange of harsh words between the two countries, the UN refugee chief said on Thursday. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres expressed UN's appreciation for Syria's absorbing a large number of Iraqi refugees who fled the violence in their war-torn country. Guterres spoke during a visit to a public clinic in Damascus' al-Sayda Zeinab suburb, where many Iraqi refugees live. Earlier in the day, he discussed the status of refugees with Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majid and Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad. Iraqis in Syria say they now get a 15-day permit to stay, after which they have to apply for a three-month permit that can be renewed once. After six months, if an Iraqi is not a student or does not have a business or a job, he or she has to leave the country for at least 30 days before being allowed back in again.