What Pushes Migrants to Belarus?
Thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, have flocked to Europe after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced in May that he was easing measures against those wishing to emigrate to the West.
Migrants told the New York Times that "Belarusians took them to the border and gave them pliers for cutting wire." Most of these migrants come from Iraqi Kurdistan and say they are fleeing the impasse.
The role of Belarus
According to the European Union, Minsk has attracted migrants and used them as a means to avenge sanctions imposed by Brussels for repression against the opposition. Belarus denies and accuses European authorities of failing to provide a humanitarian corridor.
Recently, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko noted that "if the Poles do not provide a humanitarian corridor, if they prevent this, Belavia can take them to Munich."
For now, however, Polish border guards are pushing migrants to the other side of the border with Belarus, and authorities in Warsaw describe what is happening as a hybrid attack from the neighboring country.
What do migrants flee from?
About 3,000 Kurds have left Iraqi Kurdistan in recent months. About 1,600 of them went to Belarus on tourist visas.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a region generally considered relatively stable and rich in oil. However, the danger of terrorist attacks by Islamic State is constant - the group continues to operate in the disputed territories. In addition, Turkey is conducting regular military operations in the northern part of the region. There is also an internal threat - a clash between local forces and Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias.
Even if we put security aside, corruption, unemployment and bleak economic prospects, especially given the global recession, are forcing many to turn to a prosperous West. Even graduates feel they have no chance in their hometowns, where they believe the system is based on connections, patronage and corruption.
The region has been ruled for decades by two political families, Barzani and Talabani. In May the UN criticized the region's authorities for unjustified arrests, unfair trials and intimidation of journalists.
Some migrants say they are fleeing because they are being persecuted for political reasons in their homeland.
Many of those currently in Belarus have spent all their savings to pay for the trip to Europe, where they hope to find a better life.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government has promised this month to address the roots of the problems that are causing people in the region to emigrate. To that end, the authorities have promised to carry out reforms aimed at creating jobs and improving the quality of life, as well as setting up a commission to make recommendations for concrete steps.
The federal government in Baghdad has said it will allocate $ 200,000 to help Iraqis stranded on the borders between Belarus and Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Yesterday, the first plane departing from Minsk returned 431 refugees back to Iraq.
However, many of the migrants in the wooded areas on the border between Belarus and Poland rejected the offer to return. Some say they prefer to die but not return to Iraq. These people are convinced that even a difficult and dangerous passage is worth the risk.
The big prize in the game of cat and mouse with the Polish border guards? Decent life in Europe.
/Asen Georgiev, BTA
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