Arnon Grunberg



On Little Baghdad – Christina Hebel in Der Spiegel:

‘It is mostly refugees from Iraq who gather here in the center of the Belarusian capital, an unusual sight in a country where people from the Middle East haven't generally been plentiful. Some Belarusians have taken to calling this part of Minsk "Little Baghdad.”’


‘"They must have just come back from the forest,” says Ali, sitting down at an empty table with his friends and ordering lentil soup. Ali is a slim, pale man with a beard. He explains how, until recently, he sold shirts and pants in northern Iraq, only earning the equivalent of $6 a day. "That wasn't much of a life,” he says. The Kurd has been living in Belarus since the beginning of October. He says he has been "in the forest,” as he calls the area at the European Union’s external border with Poland, which is located around 250 kilometers southwest of Minsk, three times. He has had to return to Minsk on each occasion. Thus far, the forest hasn't brought him much luck.’


‘It’s mainly Iraqis, but also Syrians and Afghans who fly to Belarus. The country's dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, who enjoys the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been allowing asylum seekers into the country on tourist visas for the past several months. The "Belarus Route” is the name given to the road to the West, which has been deliberately expanded by the regime in Minsk. It’s an attempt by Lukashenko to divide the EU and take revenge for the severe sanctions that have been imposed by the bloc.’


‘The young men show videos they took at the Polish border, full of barbed wire, soldiers and a helicopters flying at low altitude. Ali says they made it a few miles across the border into Poland on their third attempt. They had been traveling for seven days and had run out of food and water. He says they had been unable to find their driver to Germany, who had been arranged by the traffickers. The Polish police brought the exhausted group back to the border, where Belarusian border guards caught them. He says they had to pay $100 to the officials so they wouldn't be forced back toward Poland.

"They treat us like footballs. Where is the EU’s humanity?” asks a man in his 50s from the northern Syrian town of Hasaka outside the shopping center in Minsk. He claims he was stuck in no-man's land between the borders for 21 days. Like so many other migrants, the Syrian no longer has a valid visa for Belarus, since they are issued for only a few days. Each of them must pay as much as $3,500 for the flight, documents and accommodations. Many are put up by the traffickers in hotels controlled by Lukashenko’s administration, making it rather profitable for the regime in addition to the political benefit of pressuring the EU.’


‘Alena Chekhovich of Human Constanta, a human rights organization, has begun warning of a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Minsk and the border area. She says the autumn has been relatively mild, but freezing temperatures will arrive soon. Videos of dead bodies in no-man’s land are circulating in Facebook groups, though it is difficult to verify their authenticity. Ten people have reportedly died at the border, but many activists believe that the real figure is actually higher. An increasing number of refugees are also running out of money and getting sick, says Chekhovich. She’s one of the last independent human rights activists in the country still helping refugees. The regime is also taking action against Human Constanta.’


‘A few days later, Ali was also in one of the cars heading for Poland with friends. It was attempt number four to cross into the EU and it ended somewhere north of the Lithuanian border, where they were taken by Belarusian officials, the men later reported. They say they made it into Lithuania, but were then pushed back into Belarus.
Completely exhausted, the men ultimately ended up back in Minsk. Ali wants to go back into the forest and try again. He says he’s not going back to Iraq.
"Even if we have to try 17 times, I’m not giving up,” he says.
Update: On Monday, after this report went to press, large groups of migrants in Belarus began amassing at the Polish border - 3,000 to 4,000 people, according to Poland. The Polish government dispatched reinforcements to the area. In Germany, Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters that the Belarusian regime is acting as a human trafficker." He added that the EU would "take a united stand against this continuous hybrid attack." Ali and his friends aren't part of the larger group, but they, too, are somewhere at the Polish border. It is their fifth attempt.’

Read the complete article here.

The regime as a human trafficker, making a profit and trying to divide the EU, with the blessing of Putin of course.

Something that can only work because the despair in Iraq, to name just one country, is big enough to make some Iraqis, those who have some money, to pay ‘$3,500 for the flight, documents and accommodations’ – Belarus as the stopover to a better future in the West.

No tourism – let the refugees fill our hotels, if they can afford it.