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How do immigrants get to Belarus?

Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have been stranded at the Belarus-Poland border for days. While it is not clear what will happen to them – Belarus drove them to the border, and Poland does not intend to welcome them – we do know for sure how they got to Belarus, a country that was thousands of kilometers from the main migration routes even a few months ago. He frequented to reach Europe.

Since the beginning of the Belarus summer It welcomes and then pushes thousands of immigrants to Polish territory and the Baltic States, in what is seen as an attempt to put the European Union into trouble (the political opponent of the Belarusian authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko), which exploits Eastern European hostility towards immigrants. According to Poland estimates, there have been about 30 thousand attempts to enter Belarus since this summer.

Testimonies of migrants participating in the new route indicate that a large part of their journey was encouraged and organized by the Belarusian authorities, who acted like human traffickers: a situation unprecedented in modern European history.

It all started in March, “when we learned that the Belarusian government was simplifying the bureaucratic procedures for issuing “tourist” visas in Iraq, Tell a BBC News Lithuanian Deputy Interior Minister Kęstutis Lančinskas. For a person who wants to enter Europe to apply for protection, obtaining a visa for a country on the borders of the territory of the European Union means making sure to avoid the long and dangerous approach to the European border. Like what, for example, people do the so-called “Balkan Road” Climb all the Balkans for thousands of kilometers in perilous conditions.

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Belarus has no major relations or interests with Middle Eastern countries and has relied on word of mouth to spread the word about opening the new road. Even the bureaucratic procedures for issuing visas are contracted out to foreign travel agencies, which in WhatsApp chats or Facebook groups announce “all inclusive” packages for a holiday in Minsk: it goes without saying that it is not an actual holiday.

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German wave wire With a travel agent from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, he knows several agencies that have been working for months to issue permits and organize trips to enter Belarus. Several sources said a German wave It is also happening outside Iraq, in other countries in the region. It takes a few days to get the visa, at most a few weeks.

The next step is to fly. For months, several airlines in the Middle East have activated direct connections between Minsk, the capital of Belarus, and cities such as Istanbul (Turkey), Damascus (Syria), Dubai (UAE). One of the most active is Belavia, the Belarusian state airline: it does not provide direct contacts with Iraq but maintains them Day trip with Dubai And with Istanbul, from which sometimes two flights depart daily to Minsk.

(A video clip circulated on social media shows dozens of people at Damascus airport waiting to board a flight to Minsk)

Belavia is not alone in ensuring a kind of air bridge between the Middle East and Belarus: many airlines, attracting a route that suddenly became popular with their customers, have activated their contacts with Minsk. In the summer, Iraqi Airways, the state-run Iraqi airline, announced its connections to Minsk from several cities including Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, only to be suspended. After pressure from some European diplomats.

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EuObserver He noted that Turkish Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the world, also Guarantees Two contacts a day between Istanbul and Minsk, despite what happens on the border with Poland.

Once you arrive in Belarus, the most complicated and most expensive part of the journey begins.

To get to the departure airports, for the flight itself and for bureaucratic procedures, migrants spend a few thousand euros. The lucky ones, especially in the first days of the road, are placed in hotels controlled by the regime and escorted to the border by Belarusian security forces. With private buses and taxis.

All others have to rely on human traffickers, who can be contacted from the countries of departure and once in Minsk. Their salary figures reported in the newspapers vary a lot. The guardian speak boldly At a rate between 15,000 and 20,000 euros per person. Other newspapers write slightly lower numbers.

The last part of the route involves crossing the Belarus-Poland border on foot: a wooded area and until a few months ago little guarded by border guards. Today, however, the situation has changed a lot, both for the thousands of Polish soldiers patrolling the border and for the series of business deals associated with the new influx.

Migrants not only pay smugglers to cross the border into Poland, but also for their safety, one smuggler said BBC News: «You have to wander through uncharted forests in a foreign country. Pickpockets are ready to steal from you. Organized crime is watching you. There are wild animals, rivers, and swamps to cross: it’s a leap into the void, even if you use a GPS.”

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Moreover, in recent days, checks at the Polish border have intensified so much that the new arrivals are left only to camp near the fence that marks the border, with no guarantee that they will be able to cross. Journalist Lorenzo Tondo spoke to an Iraqi Kurdish family who tried to enter Poland nine times and was rejected by Polish authorities nine times.

It is unclear what measures European countries could take to block or make some parts of the new route more difficult. according to ReutersThe Council of the European Union, the body in which representatives of the governments of the 27 member states sit, will impose new sanctions on Belarus and its airline Belavia at the beginning of next week.

Indeed, today Belavia cannot operate at European airports or fly over the territory of the European Union, but new sanctions should prevent it from leasing aircraft from European suppliers: part of its fleet currently consists of aircraft leased from Irish, Danish and Romanian suppliers. .

As for the other steps of the path, European countries can do little: do not interfere with human smuggling in Belarus, a country that is not part of the European Union, and do not prevent certain airlines from maintaining contacts with Minsk.