Armenia’s government moved on Thursday to exempt Syrian Armenian refugees from hefty legal fees levied from foreigners extending their visas and receiving residency permits.
Prime Minister Sarkisian’s cabinet approved corresponding draft amendments to an Armenian law on state duties at a weekly meeting. The amendments, which will be sent to parliament soon, apply to foreign nationals of Armenian descent who face grave dangers in their countries and migrate to Armenia.
“If emergencies arise and our compatriots are unable to adhere to formal procedures, we will exempt them from fines and other penalties and create more comfortable conditions so that they can solve their problems while staying in the [historical] homeland,” Sarkisian said at the cabinet meeting.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said late last month that its diplomatic missions in Damascus and Aleppo have issued visas to some 3,000 ethnic Armenians in Syria nationals this year. According to the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, about 2,000 of them have actually arrived in the country of their ancestors so far.
Some of those Syrian Armenians have already obtained Armenian citizenship. According to Diaspora Affairs Minister Hranush Hakobian, short-term visas issued to many others are now expiring.
Extending the validity of an Armenian visa currently costs 500 drams ($1.25) per day. The legal cost of a residency permit varies from 105,000 to 140,000 drams ($256-340).
The proposed amendments are the latest in a series of government measures aimed at helping Syrian Armenians flee their war-torn country and settle in Armenia on a permanent or temporary basis. At its previous meeting held on August 23, the government allowed those immigrants to use their Syrian drivers’ licenses for up to one year.
The government had earlier allowed Syrian Armenians to receive visas at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport and Armenian border crossings.
The immigration authorities in Yerevan sparked a controversy this week when they refused to give visas to nine members of an extended Syrian family who arrived at Zvartnots on a flight from Istanbul. The passengers, among them five children, were denied entry into the country on the grounds that they failed to prove their ethnic Armenian origin. Their Armenian relatives in Yerevan rejected and condemned this explanation.
Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), whose officers are in charge of passport control at the airport, defended the visa rebuff on Thursday. NSS spokesman Artsvin Baghramian was quoted by the official Armenpress news agency as saying that the Syrian citizens planned to travel to a third country “with the help of an illegal immigration organizer.”
“Before arriving in Armenia they unsuccessfully attempted to travel to Europe from Istanbul,” said Baghramian. He added that the family has been sent back to Turkey.