ISTANBUL (Aftenposten): Over 400 migrants have fled from Minsk and home to Iraq, several hundred others are gathered in a warehouse building on the border with Poland.
He had envisioned England. A country where he could continue to study history. Maybe become a professor at a university.
In his hometown of Sulaymaniah in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, Nabil did not find work. That is why he decided to bet everything: Almost 25,000 Norwegian kroner for a visa and a plane ticket to Minsk.
But after almost two weeks in the forest on the border between Belarus and Poland, Nabil’s dream of Europe was shattered: the 33-year-old was determined not to give up. But on Thursday, he and several hundred other migrants were gathered by Belarusian border guards and moved out of the forest. Then other Iraqis started talking about going home.
– I will also go now, he tells Aftenposten.
– We no longer have a chance.
Brought home Iraqis
On Thursday night, a plane carrying around 430 Iraqi migrants landed in Erbil in northern Iraq. It is first time since August that Iraqi authorities bring citizens home from Belarus.
Among the passengers were several children, writes Reuters. Pictures from Erbil show families getting off the plane, carrying sacks and bags. Dressed in warm winter clothes that they hoped would help them survive the wait in the border country with the EU.
“I would have been left to die, but my family was in danger,” Mohsen Addi from Sinjar province told the news agency. He says that they have stayed in the cold in the Belarusian forest for one month before they voluntarily chose to join the plane home.
Recently, several thousand migrants and refugees have camped along the nearly 400-kilometer-long border between Poland and Belarus.
- They live in makeshift tents and have poor access to food and water.
- As the weather has become colder, the humanitarian situation has become increasingly precarious.
- At the same time, the situation has become more acute. Many have tried to cross the border at night.
- Earlier this week, Polish border guards used tear gas and water cannons against migrants trying to cross the border.
Pictures from the border areas with Poland show the quantities that have accumulated in the forest.
Among them are many young children.
On Thursday morning, a couple told Polish aid workers that their one-year-old child had lost his life in the forest. A total of at least nine migrants have died in recent months, according to Reuters.
– Like footballs
Nabil says that he left Sulaymaniyah at the end of October. He spent four days in Dubai before traveling on to Minsk. He stayed there for five days before heading out into the woods towards the Polish border.
He says the days out there have been bad.
– It is very, very cold, he says to Aftenposten. They have been hungry and thirsty.
The border guards have generally treated them well, says Nabil. He blames no one for the situation. After all, he chose to travel himself.
But he says it is obvious that he and the other migrants are a piece in a game between Poland and Belarus.
– We are like football, he says.
A political game
According to Polish authorities, more than 10,000 people have tried to cross the border illegally since August. Poland has sent 15,000 troops to the border area to prevent the migrants from succeeding.
The EU accuses Belarus of using migrants in a political game to harm the EU as punishment for sanctions. They believe that Belarus has deliberately made it easier for people from the Middle East to fly to Minsk, and then move on towards the EU border.
The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, denies this. On Monday, he said that Belarus was working to get the migrants back home.
Retrieved from the forest
On Thursday, the situation for Nabil changed. He says that the migrants in the tent camp where he stayed were picked up by Belarusian soldiers. Then they were transported to a warehouse building that has been converted into a temporary reception.
Here, hundreds of migrants were allowed to sleep inside, on mattresses, for the first time in weeks, until Friday night.
A spokesman for the Polish border guard said on Thursday Reuters that most of the camps closest to the border are now empty. A Belarusian spokesman has also confirmed this, according to the news agency.
Nevertheless, the authorities are prepared for new groups to appear and try to cross the border again in the next few days.
Now Nabil and the other migrants are waiting at the center to find out what will happen next.
– I asked a soldier if we would be deported. He said that no solution has been found yet, says Nabil.
He has given up hope of crossing the border. At home in Sulaymaniyah, several family members are waiting for him. They have been very worried, he says.
But even he is disappointed. Now he is completely broke. Besides, it does not feel completely safe to return to Iraq, now that he has tried so hard to escape from there.
– Will you try again later?
– Of course. Of course, I will continue to try to get to Europe.