Last week, The New York Times told the stories of several Iraqi Kurds who tried to get into the European Union through Belarus. One of the people the newspaper spoke to was Rebin Sirwan Majid, a 29-year-old journalist who headed to Minsk to enter the EU. According to him, when he decided to ask for asylum in Belarus itself, representatives of the authorities immediately forcibly escorted him out of the country, while beating him. Zerkalo.io talked to him and found out the details of this story.
Paid $4.000, flew through Syria
«I am 29 years old, I was born in the city of Erbil (the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan). Now I live in Sulaymaniyah because of fears for my safety. The fact is that I work in one of the democratic media, including those covering politics, and for my activities, I was imprisoned and beaten many times. We show how the system of power in Kurdistan really works, and because of this, we face serious problems. I’m often threatened with death, and for this reason it has become impossible to work further. That’s why I decided to go to Europe».
According to Rebin, many people in Iraqi Kurdistan face similar problems – this is what makes them risk going to Belarus.
«The people of Iraqi Kurdistan are tired of the existing system. There is no freedom, the economy is destroyed. In fact, the entire economy of the six million region is subordinated to two families who completely control it and take all the money. Most live in poverty, many people with higher education can’t get a normal job. Journalistic work is also impossible – we are constantly threatened with murder. I think, Iraqi Kurdistan can live better, but now the situation is very bad».
After learning about the possibility of getting into the EU through Belarus, Rebin Sirvan decided to leave Iraq. According to him, the scheme by which migrants get to Belarus is very simple. The only thing you need to have is a large amount of money.
«My journey was realized through a ‘tourist’ scheme. I applied for a Belarusian visa with the help of tourist agency, paying them 4 thousand dollars. As far as I know, this company belongs to the family of Bashar al-Assad – now they earn on this. At the beginning of October, I already had all the documents. I went to Baghdad, from where I flew to Syria, and from Syria to Belarus. The whole trip took six days: I spent one of them in Baghdad, five in Syria. On October 18, I was in Minsk. Why didn’t I choose the legal path? For an Iraqi citizen, this is almost impossible – it’s very difficult for us to obtain a visa from one of the European countries. So we just have to choose illegal paths».
When asked where migrants have such serious sums from, the journalist answers that they usually sell everything they have to leave: housing, cars, business.
Most say they would rather die in these forests than return to Iraq.
Rebin spent several weeks in Minsk trying to make his way to Europe. However, he failed to cross the border.
«When I realized that it would not be possible to leave Belarus because of the difficulty of the route, I decided to apply for international protection here. I couldn’t go back to Iraq – I feared for my life. I contacted the Belarusian Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, where I was sent to the Belarusian migration agency. But as soon as I came to them and said I wanted to ask for protection, they said I would be deported. No one listened to my words that I am a journalist and could die in Iraq. When I tried to argue, I was immediately beaten with a stun gun. They didn’t even let me pack up, they didn’t tested me for coronavirus — they just took me to the airport and forced me to board the first plane to Damascus. The whole ‘deportation’ procedure took approximately two hours».
So Rebin was back in Syria. He spent one day without food or water there. After that, he was returned to Erbil, from where the journalist immediately fled to his friends in another city, fearing for his life. Now he is trying to apply to the consulates of European countries to get a legal visa and leave the country where he is in danger.
In Minsk, I talked to many migrants. Most say they would rather die in these forests than return to Iraq. You can’t pass on the pain and the problems they face. They want freedom, they want a better life. They are not parasites, as it is often imagined, they don’t go to Europe for easy money. All they want is to be given the opportunity to work there. Among them there are a lot of businessmen — experienced, skillful. In Europe and other countries, there are many Kurds, and in important positions. Among them there are many journalists, writers, artists, they help to develop the economy of Europe. Moreover, during the war [in Iraq], many of them saved the Europeans».
Assessing the scale of migration from Iraq through Belarus, Rebin says that, according to his data, about 15 thousand people have already received the same visas as him.
«Some managed to get to Germany through Poland, while others decided to go through Lithuania — and now they are in camps for migrants, their situation is very bad. There are also those who returned to Iraq, realizing that they would not cross the border. Most of those who remain are now at the border. I think there are from five to ten thousand such people in Belarus now»,– Rebin says.
Migrants will lose in war between Belarus and the EU
«The main thing that migrants at the border need now is food, water and warm clothes. Those people with whom I communicated, among those at the border, say that it’s very cold there and every day it’s only getting colder. If they are not allowed to cross the border, it will be necessary to intervene with organizations such as the Red Cross, otherwise people will simply die».
At the same time, Rebin Sirvan doesn’t see options in which the crisis at the border could be resolved positively for all parties.
«It seems to me that Europe needs to solve the problem with Belarus. We need to make sure that migrants from Iraq and other countries don’t go to Belarus, we need to close the way for them there. When this is done, it is necessary to accept migrants who are already at the border – and consider their applications. Perhaps they could be distributed across the EU countries. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Europe will not accept migrants, so as not to lose in the conflict with Belarus. And in the end, the main losers in this war between the EU and Belarus will be the migrants themselves. I hope that at least just losers — not victims».