The BBC presented the history of the crossing of a group of migrants from the Middle East to Belarus, and then to Poland and Germany. Step by step, it described not only subsequent events, but also how the attitude of the migrants themselves changed during their European journeys. From looking for “safe transport through Minsk” to one of them saying that “they can’t trust anyone” and that they put their fate “into God’s hands”.
BBC journalists described in detail the crossing of a group of Syrian Kurds from the Middle East to Belarus, and then to Poland and Germany. One of them reported on their trip by phone. He sent photos and videos of the road to the editorial office.
The protagonists of the reportage – Idris and his companions – claim that they are heading to Europe for a better future. They all come from Kobane and are under 30 years old. In 2014, their hometown was severely damaged as a result of fierce fighting between Kurdish troops and militants of the so-called Islamic State. The main reasons they decided to leave their country, they confessed, were political instability, fear of conscription and unemployment. “There is no future for me in Syria,” confessed Idris, who left his wife and two daughters in Kobane. He promised them that he would bring them back to Europe soon, if he could get there.
In an interview with the BBC, he admitted that he did not know if he would have decided to travel to Europe if Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka had not proposed a new, seemingly safer way. Idris said the route to the EU via Belarus is “much easier than crossing Turkey”.
Stage one: Irbil
Their journey begins on September 25 in the city of Irbil. In one of the first recordings sent to BBC journalists, Idris and his team are holding tickets and seven-day tourist visas to Belarus in their hands. They are “clearly optimistic” and “ready to go”, writes the BBC.
Erbil is the bustling capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Iraq. The city, with a population of over 1.5 million, is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring Syria and other regions of the country. “For many, this is the beginning of a trip to Europe,” notes the BBC.
The station’s journalists report that there are many “travel agencies” in the city, although they note that it is “whispered business”. “Travel advice is disseminated on the internet, Facebook and chat rooms,” they report.
Reporters spoke to the man who deals with visas and flights to Minsk. He wanted to be anonymous. For the purposes of the article, it was called Murad.
“For migrants looking for safe transport via Minsk, Belarusian travel agencies initially issued electronic invitations to board a plane flying to the capital. However, when fake invitations began to be earned, the rules changed. Now, migrants need a physical visa stamp to book a flight. in the passport. It takes longer, but it is still not complicated, “writes the BBC.
“This is where it gets expensive,” writes the BBC. Murad said he was advising his clients against paying smugglers in Iraq. It is cheaper and safer – as he claims – to find someone like that after reaching Minsk.
As reported by BBC journalists, a smuggler in Iraq costs between $ 9,000 and $ 12,000. One of them explained to reporters that the price was so high because the trip was “unpredictable.” – You are walking through unknown forests in a foreign country. The thieves are waiting to steal your money. The mafia is watching you. There are wild animals in the field, rivers and swamps to overcome. You throw yourself into the unknown, even if you use GPS – said the man who did not want to reveal his identity.
When asked about the role of the Belarusian authorities in the whole process, the smuggler replies: – They make things easier. They help people.
Stage II: Belarus
As reported by the BBC, when Idris and his companions reached Minsk, they found crowds of migrants who – like them – wanted to enter the European Union. In one of the recordings, you can see the crowded arrivals hall and passengers lying on the ground awaiting the processing of the application.
Although Iraqi airlines, under pressure from the European Union, suspended direct flights from Baghdad to Minsk in August, migrants continue to fly from Istanbul, Dubai and Damascus.
Idris and his companions were accommodated at the Sputnik Hotel in Minsk. They informed journalists over the phone that they were in contact with local smugglers who were to transport them via Poland to Germany. – We cross the border illegally. We don’t know what will happen. We can’t trust anyone, not even our smuggler. We place our fate in God’s hands, said Idris.
As the BBC writes, although dozens of migrants try to get from Belarus to Lithuania every day, most of them are now headed for Poland.
Stage III: Poland
Irbis’ first attempt to cross the Polish border ended in failure. They left Minsk too late and did not manage to meet the smuggler on time.
The second attempt also failed. The group was detained by the Belarusian police, who took their passports and ordered the drivers to return to Minsk. So they went back to the hotel. The smugglers demanded money for retrieving the documents. To make matters worse, writes the BBC, their visas expired, so they had to check out of the hotel and find accommodation in a private apartment.
The third time around, Idris and his group attempted to cross the Polish border near Brest. They reached the border just after midnight. There they were loaded onto trucks by the Belarusian army and, together with 50 other migrants huddled inside, were transported a few hundred meters away.
Idris said Belarusian soldiers helped them cross the border. He claims they even cut barbed wire, paving the way for migrants.
On the Polish side, they split into smaller groups and set off through the forest into Poland, guided by telephone navigation.
According to the BBC, in the films that Idris sent to the editorial office over the next two days, the migrants were in a hopeless state. They traveled just over 20 kilometers, but their trek through the swamps and dense forest brought them to the brink of exhaustion.
“At one point, Idris fell into a ditch and injured his leg, causing the group to lose valuable time,” writes the BBC.
Stage IV: Germany
Finally, on October 9, they reached the vicinity of the Polish town of Milejczyce, where a car was waiting for them. They arrived in Germany at dawn, and split up shortly thereafter. Some went to Frankfurt, and one of the young women went to Denmark to meet her fiancé.
Idris, on the other hand, traveled to the Netherlands, where he plans to apply for asylum to the authorities. “He has heard that if he receives asylum, the Dutch family reunification rules will allow him to bring his wife and twin daughters from Kobane. But that will take some time,” the BBC continues.
The BBC points out that it is difficult to determine how many people have reached their intended goals since Lukashenka “opened the door to his country”.
Attempts to cross the border illegally
The Border Guard said that in October alone, there were over 12,000 attempts to illegally cross the border
A state of emergency has been in force on the border zone since September 2. Initially introduced for 30 days, it was extended from October 1 for another 60 days. According to the government, the migration crisis at the border is caused by the Lukashenka regime. Belarus’s actions are called a “hybrid war against Poland”.
Belarus denies allegations of persuading migrants to fly there under the false promise of legal entry into the EU, and blames Western politicians for the situation at the border.
Main photo source: Marcin Onufryjuk / PAP