“I don’t want to stay in Iraq because life there is difficult, even our life is dangerous. Our life there isn’t safe, as you see about ISIS and everything else,” Iraqi migrant Ahmad Rebaz, 27, told The Associated Press (AP), referring to the terror organization Daesh. He said his wife had recently given birth to their second child in the nearby Belarusian city of Grodno.
A man (L) warms his hands at a field kitchen as migrants pour hot water into a bottle at the "Bruzgi" checkpoint logistics center at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Dec. 22, 2021.
Since Nov. 8, a large group of migrants, mostly Iraqi Kurds, has been stranded in Belarus at a border crossing with Poland. Most of the migrants are fleeing conflict or hopelessness at home, and aim to reach Germany or other Western European countries.
Women wash children's clothes with cold water at the "Bruzgi" checkpoint logistics center at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Dec. 22, 2021.
The EU has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of waging a “hybrid attack” against the bloc. Officials say he is luring thousands of migrants to Belarus with the promise of help to get to Western Europe to use them as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation EU in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian government. Belarus has denied engineering the crisis.
About 600 migrants, according to the Belarusian Red Cross, are living at the Bruzgi logistics center as of late December. It is a warehouse facility where they have set up a makeshift camp, placing mattresses and tents in the rows that once housed shipping containers. Belarusian authorities and the Belarusian Red Cross have provided them with food and other necessary supplies.
Poland took a tough stance against the migrants’ illegal entry, reinforcing the border and pushing those attempting to get in back into Belarus. The Polish approach was largely met with approval from other EU nations, who want to stop another wave of migration but has also been criticized by human rights groups.
The migrants “need immediate help because the weather is getting more and more cold,” said Zanyar Dlshad, an 18-year-old from Iraq living at the logistics center who hopes to make it to Europe to reunite with his brother and to study at a university.
“It’s so cold and I don’t believe people can keep up with this,” he said.
While most migrants say they want to travel on to Germany, some say they are willing to settle in any country to avoid having to return to Iraq.
“If Belarus, Russia, Poland, Lithuania or any other country gives us citizenship, I’ll accept. For me, there’s no difference. But (I’ll) never ever come back to Iraq,” said Farhad Mahamad, a 34-year-old migrant from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Several hundred Iraqi migrants have already left Belarus on evacuation flights organized by the Iraqi government, and more are beginning to agree to return home with the help of the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.
A migrant boy plays with a ball in a ray of sunshine at the "Bruzgi" checkpoint logistics center at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Dec. 22, 2021.