Failed immigration plan through Belarus reveals smuggling networks

ERBIL, KRG, Iraq (North Press) – According to the statements of Iraqi officials and the number of Iraqis returning to their country who failed to cross the Belarusian-Polish border, it turned out that hundreds of people were victims of migrant-smuggling networks and illegal immigration.

The Iraqi authorities have officially admitted the existence of migrant-smuggling networks, saying they would investigate the case.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein revealed, in a press statement yesterday, the existence of smuggling networks involved in transporting Iraqis to European countries. One of those networks has been arrested, Hussein said.

However, no detail about that network was released by the minister.

On November 12, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the temporary withdrawal of the work permit of the Belarusian honorary consul in Baghdad, in addition to the suspension of direct flights with Belarus.

This step comes to protect Iraqi citizens from human smuggling networks in Belarus and Poland, according to the Iraqi Ministry.

European pressure

In October, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy representative, Josep Borrell, said he had asked the Iraqi government to “permanently suspend flights with Belarus in order to stop illegal migration to the bloc.”  

The European Union’s foreign ministers announced, after their meeting in Brussels in mid-November, a package of sanctions against Belarus for its involvement in facilitating the process of illegal immigration to the bloc.

“We refuse to have human traffickers in Iraqi society,” Iraq’s Foreign Minister said in a statement during a joint press conference with his Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis in Baghdad.

“We will investigate the smuggling of Iraqis to Lithuania via Belarus,” Hussein said.

“There’s a mutual need to stop this network of illegal migration,” Landsbergis said.

Even before the Iraqi decision to suspend flights to Belarus, airlines organized three to four weekly flights to Belarus.

However, the Polish authorities soon began to develop security plans to confront the wave of immigration, which was viewed by many observers as a form of political pressure used by Russia through its ally Belarus on the European Union.

According to The Washington Post, the Belarus authorities “used the card of asylum seekers, most of them Iraqis, for political purposes in order to pressure and flood Europe with migrants, as happened in 2015 when Turkey used the same card and allowed thousands of migrants to cross its territory.”

Iraqis returned but Syrians still stranded

Weeks ago, the Iraqi authorities told Iraqi Airways to evacuate Iraqi citizens stranded in Belarusian territory.

In a press statement earlier this week, the spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, Ahmed al-Sahhaf, announced the return of 1,894 people.

The repatriation campaign came after the migrants stayed for days at the borders under harsh environmental conditions, and after the Polish authorities arrested whoever crossed the border.

Last week, Poland had declared a state of emergency in the regions bordering Belarus. The authorities sent additional military and police forces to the border, and built barbed wire fences against migrants in various locations.

As for Syrians, they have been also the victims to the traffickers. Some of them traveled from Syria and others from Iraq, the UAE and other countries, relying on the instructions of smugglers, according to what one of the Syrians who intended to go to Belarus said.

Turkey was also in the accusation circle, when it operated several direct flights to Minsk from Istanbul Airport. Some refugees to be said were among those passengers.

However, Ankara recently has suspended flights to the Belarusian capital, denying in an official statement that it had deliberately transported refugees.

The death toll of the migrants at the European Union-Belarus has risen to 11, including at least two Syrians, according to media reports, due to the migrants’ dangerous conditions with low temperatures in the border region, and of the lack of shelter.

It is difficult to communicate directly with the stranded people due to the lack of Internet networks.

North Press reported Syrian youths living in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, saying they intended to migrate to Europe via Belarus, but they changed their opinions after seeing the tragic conditions of those stranded there.

The plan was that the person would travel from the airport of their country or a neighboring country legally to Belarus, and then would head to the nearest border point to the west in preparation for the illegal entry to Poland and Germany, this is what Hussein Oso, a Syrian refugee residing in Erbil, said.

Oso was among those planning to do this experiment, especially after one of his relatives could reach Germany in the previous period.

However, Oso gave up the idea of immigration in this way after watching on television the conditions of those stranded at the border.

“I would rather stay in Erbil now than go to death,” he told North Press.

Reporting by Hozan Zubeir