Iraqis caught in Belarus-EU border crisis return home
BAGHDAD – Hundreds of Iraqis returned home from Belarus on Thursday after giving up hopes of reaching the European Union – a repatriation after tensions on Poland’s eastern border, where thousands of migrants were stranded in a cold, soggy forest.
Many more in Belarus have moved into a heated warehouse not far from the border, emptying a makeshift camp, Belarusian state media reported. But the Polish Defense Ministry released a video showing a few hundred people and their tents still near an official crossing point.
It was not clear whether the two countries were talking about two different sites on their border, but this was typical of the tales of the duel that marked the crisis, in which Belarus and Poland sought to portray themselves in a positive light. while describing others as callous and irresponsible towards migrants.
“We were hostages, victims trapped between Belarus and the European Union,” said a young Iraqi returnee wearing a black hoodie after his flight arrived in Baghdad.
“The Belarusian police are the same as Daesh,” he said, referring to the brutal militants of the Islamic State group who sacked Iraq several years ago.
Ali Kadhim, who is returning home to Basra, said he wanted to go to Europe because in Iraq there is “no work and the situation is very bad lately”.
He said he made a deal with a smuggler to bring him to the Belarus-Poland border area, where a Belarusian border guard took his passport and mobile phone and prevented him from leaving the forest. For three days he had no food, water or internet access, he said.
“I lived on what I found on earth. I mean I had to live three dates in a whole day, ”Kadhim said.
Of the 430 people who flew from Minsk, 390 got off at Irbil International Airport in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region before the flight continued to Baghdad, official Jihad al-Diwan said. Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority media relations. About 30 other people registered for the flight had problems with their papers and did not board, according to Iraqi officials, who organized the return.
A woman arriving in Erbil was carrying a cradle with a baby. Most still wore the heavy winter clothes of their stay in Belarus despite the hot weather in Iraq. Another woman collapsed, apparently unconscious.
Tensions had erupted on the Polish-Belarusian border in recent days, with around 2,000 people trapped between the forces of the two countries. On Tuesday, some migrants threw stones at Polish troops, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.
The UN refugee agency said about half of the migrants in the border area were women and children.
At least 12 people have died in the region in recent weeks due to difficult conditions in the border area, including a one-year-old child whose death was reported Thursday by a Polish aid organization.
Muslims from Poland buried an unidentified migrant in a cemetery in Bohoniki, where a population of Tatars has lived for centuries. This was the second such funeral for a migrant in a week.
Most migrants flee conflict or desperation in the Middle East and aim to reach Germany or other countries in Western Europe. But Poland took a hard line to let them in, and Belarus didn’t want them to return to the capital Minsk or otherwise settle in the country.
The West has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for its sanctions against its authoritarian regime. Belarus denies conceiving of the crisis, which has seen migrants enter the country since the summer and then attempt to cross through Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Authorities say as many as 7,000 migrants may remain in Belarus. Many have moved into the warehouse’s temporary shelter since Tuesday, where they received mattresses, water, hot meals and medical assistance.