On the spot in Belarus, what Lukashenko vehemently denies was confirmed: the migration crisis is artificial.
In the center of Minsk these days, an unusual picture of Belarus appears itself: from noon to late evening dozens of groups, mostly four to five people, full of sleeping bags and shopping bags, roam the streets. Most of them are Iraqi Kurds, but you can also meet people from Syria or Afghanistan.
Hope for a better life
A shopping center not far from the residence of controversial President Lukashenko has become a popular meeting place. Where thousands of people demonstrated in August a year ago against the sham presidential election, I met 23-year-old Ali and his friends in the entrance area. Ali hopes to find a better life in Germany, and Ibrahim wants to go to Sweden for his brother.
At this time, young men tried in vain to cross the border into the European Union three times. “I will try twenty times if I have to. I will not go back to Iraq,” Ali told me. He showed me pictures of one of their failed attempts: “When we tried it for the third time, we were already 20 kilometers on foot inside Poland. We were without food and drink for two days when the Polish border guards arrested us and took us back to the border with Belarus.” There are numerous reports of refusals even after crossing the border and relate to both Poland and Lithuania. Thus both countries are violating European law.
The work of scammers
After each unsuccessful attempt, friends return to the capital, Minsk, to regain their strength and buy new warm clothes. The salary of a salesperson in Iraq is not enough to survive: “I worked ten to twelve hours a day in Iraq and earned between six and seven dollars. Life is hard in Iraq. Nothing works without money. You cannot study without money.”
He saved for a long time and his relatives support him to pay for the trip. Officially, immigrants travel as tourists to Minsk via Istanbul, Dubai or Beirut. People are lured by people smugglers who think that entering the EU from Belarus is not a problem. The number of people who followed these false promises can only be roughly estimated. Conservative estimates assume that up to 15,000 immigrants are currently believed to be in Belarus.
This number has likely increased further in the past few weeks. Because the number of people entering Minsk every day is several times greater than the number of those crossing the borders of the European Union. At least eight people were killed while trying to cross the border.
Income from the state coffers
It is amazing how careful the Belarusian authorities have been so far. In the case of large crowds, the police usually react to arrests as well as by carrying invalid documents. The authorities are said to be aware of 2,000 people whose visas to Belarus have already expired. Among them are Ali and his friends.
So far, the Belarusian authorities seem to be deliberately looking the other way. There is also a financial interest behind it. The Belarusian state also reaps profits from the smugglers’ trade. Most of the migrants are sold in package travel through agencies that pump money into the coffers of the state airline Belavia and hotels under the control of the presidential administration. Ali and his friends traveled with Belavia from Istanbul to Minsk and spent the first few nights in a state-controlled hotel. Since their visa has expired, they sleep either in the hostel or on the street.
crisis in leadership
At the end of the week, Ali and his friends tried to cross the border again. Ali sent me an annoying voice message: “We are in a Belarusian border guard vehicle. They arrested us in the border area and we suspect that they want to take us to the border with Lithuania.”
As Ali later said, the border guards lured them to the car and promised to show them a place where it would be easy to cross on the Polish-Belarusian border. Within a few hours, Ali sent Ali two websites from his cell phone. The second site is already on the other side of the border in Lithuania. Shortly thereafter, Lithuanian border guards brought them back to Belarus. And so the friends’ fourth attempt failed, but they didn’t want to give up and would try again for the next few nights.
Hence, the position of Alexander Lukashenko that the issue is not an immigration crisis artificially created by Belarus can be clearly refuted. Without his order, no Belarusian border guard would transfer migrants from one border to another.
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