Staff at Erbil International Airport (EIA) have, over the past few years, confiscated hundreds of counterfeit passports and visas used in attempts to enter the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region, an airport official revealed on Saturday.
The number of foreign travelers flying into the Kurdistan Region has been steadily increasing, Rizgar Farzinda Afandi, the head of Residence and Passport Office in EIA, told Kurdistan 24.
The purposes of the foreigners’ visits to the Kurdistan Region vary, he said, but most come for either employment or to reunite with loved ones.
In addition to the Iraqi visa, the Kurdistan Region issues its own visas and residence cards. In comparison with Iraqi immigration and visa policies, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been much more welcoming to outsiders by providing visa-free entry for up to 30 days to citizens of almost 50 countries from across the world.
“The fake or modified passports we confiscated were created under the name of different countries, mostly states in the European Union,” Afandi said.
He also mentioned that the holders of fake passports had been mostly from countries with restrictions placed on their citizens that make world travel difficult or impossible without prior visa approval.
“We have up-to-date technology in the airport that can detect fake or illegally modified passports,“ the Kurdish official added. “The same goes for the Kurdistan visa that we have in our system and database, so it’s almost impossible for foreigners to enter the region with a fake visa approval.“
Yadgar Anwar Faraj, the head of Erbil's Residence Office, explained to Kurdistan 24 that the number of foreigners visiting the Kurdistan Region through its airports and border crossings has rapidly increased, namely in the past six months.
“In 2018, we started issuing Kurdistan visas and residence cards electronically to accelerate the process… the latest record in Erbil Residence Office shows we work on and complete the documents of over 1000 foreign people on almost a daily basis,” Faraj said.
Over the past few years, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has facilitated in the sectors of investment and tourism in an aim to increase sources of revenue and open the semi-autonomous region more to the world.
Since an international travel ban was imposed upon the region following its Sept. 2017 independence referendum, however, Baghdad has also increased its control of immigration procedures at airports and border crossings in Kurdistan.
Editing by John J. Catherine
(Additional reporting by Kamaran Omar)