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The Media Line: Thousands of Iraqi-Kurdish Migrants Stranded at Belarus-Poland Border

Thousands of Iraqi-Kurdish Migrants Stranded at Belarus-Poland Border

No one is offering a solution for the current human crisis – of men, women and children freezing in the woods, streets and borders of Belarus

By Ksenia Svetlova/The Media Line

The temperature dropped to 1 degree Celsius in Minsk, Belarus over the weekend, but weather apps update that it feels like -3 degrees Celsius, due to the wind.

“It is freezing cold even for me. I’m almost running underground to get refuge from the cold. I cannot imagine how the refugees who have to sleep in the woods must feel,” says Elena, a resident of Minsk. She, along with a few other Belarussians, is working to help the migrants who are trying to cross the border from Belarus to Poland, Lithuania or Latvia, by bringing them some food or warm clothes.

“All our NGO’s were dispersed” by the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, she told The Media Line. “Even the women’s organizations, as well as animal rights organizations, were dispersed as the regime tries to choke the civil society. So, people can just act on their own, but even this is difficult. In Minsk, the refugees can be found near the Galleria trade center, but there is a ring of men from the security apparatus around them, so if you approach them closely and more than one time – it could be risky,” she said.

According to international estimates, currently there are some 10,000-15,000 migrants in Belarus, mostly from Iraq, as well as from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries. A few thousand – some 2,000 to 3,000 – are stranded in the border area, unable to cross into Poland or to go back to Belarus. They came here after Lukashenko declared that he would no longer prevent refugees and migrants from crossing his country’s borders into the countries of the European Union.

Following presidential elections in Belarus in 2020 that crushed the opposition in the country and, as many in the West believe, stole the election from opposition candidate Svetlana Tichanovskaya, the EU introduced sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime. The decision to open the borders to refugees who were brought to Belarus by hundreds of regular and charter flights from Baghdad and Turkey, was seen by many in the EU as revenge against the union and a tool designed to pressure its leaders. Tichanovskaya, who leads the opposition in exile, and who was recognized by some countries as the true Belarus president-elect, connects the dots between Lukashenko’s oppression of his people at home and the cynical use of other people’s suffering to take revenge on the EU.

“The regime has staged an unprecedented international provocation: hundreds of people who trusted it with their fates were thrown onto the border with Poland, surrounded by armed security forces. We see these monstrous frames and know that migrants have already died at the border. Therefore, another provocation must not be allowed to lead to an escalation of violence and new victims. We call on people who may become victims of the migration crisis: Do not believe the promises of the regime, it not only deceives you, but also behaves inhumanly with you. A decisive response from the EU is also needed now. The United Nations should consider the possibility of sending a humanitarian mission to Belarus. This is an attempt to take revenge on democratic countries for supporting the Belarusian people, as Lukashenko tries to divert the attention of other countries from what is happening inside Belarus,” Tichanovskaya’s press office said in a statement in response to a request from The Media Line.

Currently, the EU threatens to sanction the airlines that brought the migrants from Iraq or Turkey to Belarus. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar had banned Iraqi and Syrian citizens from boarding flights bound for Minsk. However, some migrants traveled to Belarus on Belavia – Belarus’ state-owned airline, or by charter flights scheduled at the last moment.

Marianna Belenkaya, correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, told The Media Line from Belarus that the migrants are desperate and they do not care in what country they ultimately end up.

“I was told by the refugees, who are primarily Iraqi Kurds, that the cost of a trip to Belarus is approximately $3,000. The rate for children is a bit lower. For this price the refugees get the documents, the ticket and a hotel in Minsk for 2-3 nights. Then they have to get to the border,” she said, noting that the drivers in Belarus are charging them a whole lot of money for that. They also have to get equipment, including warm clothes and tents.

“Some of them are thinking at this point about staying in Belarus, which they don’t know much about. They are aware that there is Germany which is a coveted destination for many, as well as Great Britain. These people don’t know much about the rest, but they are desperate, and for some it doesn’t matter where they will end up, as long as it’s not back in Iraq,” Belenkaya said.

It seems that, at this point, some refugees realize that “the easy way to EU,” as opposed to crossing the Mediterranean by boat, is not actually easy at all.

According to the Lithuanian news agency ELTA, those who have been able to cross the border were put into detention while the authorities examine ways to deal with the current crisis. As for the thousands of migrants who are stuck in the border area in Belarus, their situation is dire as the temperatures continue to fall and as many of them begin to get sick.

Elena, the volunteer from Minsk, further describes the scene at the border. “All types of security agents are currently at the border. They do not allow them (the migrants) to go back to Belarus or to get closer to the crossings, although there are many children with disabilities there who theoretically could get refugee status. For two to three days, they stayed there with whatever equipment they had. Three people have died already at the border. We actually draw our knowledge about what is happening on the border from Polish news agencies, as our official sources keep quiet about that,” said Elena, who says she feels devastated by the way some people in Belarus talk about the migrants and refugees. “Some people say that it’s their own fault. But even if they are naïve fools – they don’t deserve to freeze to death,” she adds.

According to European sources, 14 migrants from Iraq and Syria have already died while trying to cross the border from Belarus to EU countries, among them children. The EU is currently considering leveling sweeping sanctions to deal with the Belarus migrant crisis, but no one is offering a solution for the current human crisis – of men, women and children who are freezing in the woods, streets and borders of Belarus.

 

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