Desperate Iraqi migrants trapped between Belarus and Poland

Hussein Shumari, 25, sitting in a two-bedroom apartment above his uncle’s office, said he had little left in Iraq. He graduated from law school two years ago, but still has no job. He experienced war and sectarian violence, but when his brother died of the coronavirus this year, it broke him.

“My soul died with him,” he said. “I can’t imagine staying. I think it’s time to do something.”

In September, when he heard that Belarus, a potential route to Europe, was issuing visas to Iraqis, he sold a few things he had, borrowed money from a friend of his uncle’s, and Handed 3,500 US dollars to a Baghdad travel agency. At the end of October, he boarded a plane to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. He hoped to “live a better life…a good life”.

Instead, he found himself on the front lines of the recent skirmishes between Belarus and its European neighbors. The President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, A tyrant facing increasing international isolation, In retaliation against the European Union, thousands of immigrants and refugees, mainly from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, were sent to his country’s borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Lukashenko’s weaponization of the deprivedPeople like Shumari are part of a wider, multi-year immigration crisis that has swept through Western countries, and right-wing groups that support anti-immigration policies known as “fortresses of Europe” have made a comeback.

The route through Belarus appears to be safer than the often deadly sea passage to the coast of Europe. Since 2014, more than 22,000 immigrants have drowned in the Mediterranean alone; this may be an underestimation, as many bodies have never been found. Thursday, 31 immigrants drowned When crossing the English Channel to the UK.

On the surface, young people like Shumari should not enter the ranks of immigrants. Iraq has more than 143 billion barrels of oil, ranking fifth among the proven oil reserves and accounting for about 9% of the world’s supply. But the scale of its wealth compared with the corrupt political class leaves most Iraqis with almost nothing.

After arriving in Minsk, Shumari contacted a smuggler he found in the Telegram IM group, and he promised that if he could reach Poland, he would be taken to Germany.

Shumari paid $200 in a taxi to transport him to the western edge of Belarus and reached the border fence with 10 other people.Someone in the group tried to break through
Cut the fence with scissors. Belarusian soldiers showed up, beat the migrants with truncheons and trapped them in Russian-made VAZ trucks, then dumped them in a field near the city of Grodno, a few miles east of the Polish border.

This is the beginning of a surreal Odyssey that Shumari describes as a journey through no man’s land, with immigrants huddled in a circle of beatings and harassment on both sides of the border as the temperature drops in the coming winter. Blankets, shoes, and a few children were scattered in the mud.

At dawn, a pair of Belarusian soldiers awakened the immigrants and escorted them through the swamp. The water flooded their knees until they reached a place where a 12-foot-wide river separated the two countries. The third soldier remained vigilant. The immigrants were forced to use inflatable inner tubes to cross the waterways.

On the other side, Shumari and others struggled through the forest, but soon found themselves surrounded by well-trained dogs. The barking of the dogs alarmed nearby Polish soldiers. They rounded up the immigrants and confiscated their mobile phones. , And drove them to the river on the border with a truck.

“They don’t care how cold the weather is. They just pointed to the river and said,’Swim’,” Shumari said, adding that when he walked out of the water, he trembled so badly that he thought his tooth was about to break.

When they returned to Belarusian territory, Shumari said that they were arrested again, pushed to Grodno and repeated the journey again.

“We are like a toy, a football thrown between two armies,” he said.

Four days later, any food and drink he ate was gone. The refugees rely on a Belarusian man who sneaked into the area to sell supplies. Shumari said that a pack of cigarettes costs 50 euros (56 US dollars), and a can of tuna costs more than 20 US dollars. Shumari said that he was so thirsty that he filled an empty plastic bottle with water from the river.

By the 20th day, after 11 attempts to enter Poland, Shumari felt cold, humid and hungry.

He only has a few hundred dollars, but he is willing to “pay any price to get rid of the Belarusian army.”

He gave the man carrying supplies 200 dollars to arrange for a car to take him back to Minsk, where he learned that the Iraqi government had arranged a repatriation flight.

He returned to iraq A week ago, there were 429 of his compatriots, most of whom were from the Kurdish region in the north of the country.

When he landed in Baghdad, Shumari said, “It feels like I have entered Europe. …this is the situation of Belarusians.”

However, his situation is worse than before. His uncle persuaded his friend to give Shumari some time to pay off the debt. But he doesn’t have any job to make that kind of money. The apartment he rented upstairs in his uncle’s office was empty except for a tile covering the hole where the air conditioner was supposed to be installed.

Back at the border, although the Belarusian authorities cleared the refugee camp last week, the Polish Border Guard said on Thursday that migrants were still trying to enter.

According to local news media Sumariyah, on the same day, the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would arrange two additional repatriation flights. The Iraqi government also banned the issuance of visas to Belarus and stopped all flights to Minsk by the national airline Iraqi Airlines.

It is not yet clear how effective these measures are. According to officials of the Iraqi Immigration Ministry, an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 Iraqis tried the Belarusian route in November, and many more desperate like Shumari.

An employee of Shumari, the same travel agency that once went to Minsk, said that although the route to Belarus has been suspended, the company can still provide travel packages to other destinations, including flights, visas and hotels.

“There are other options. We can send you there, but your job is to go to Europe,” the travel agency said. The cost of traveling to Moscow is less than US$2,000, while the cost of Croatia is approximately US$8,500. You can also get one-year visas for France and Italy for US$15,000.

“The visa will take two months, and then you can go in,” the agent said.

“this is very simple.”

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