Migrants Say They Face Abuse on Both Sides of Belarus Border
SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — Before the Belarus police pushed Hajar, 37, across the border into Lithuania this week, they punched him in the head, he said. But that was just the start of his ordeal.
On the Lithuanian side, the police called for a group of commandos who he said took him and his friends away and started hitting them with sticks and plastic cables and shocking them with stun guns. In a video call from Minsk, he pulled up his shirt to show deep bruises on his side and back.
“They said ‘You don’t have the right to come here to our country,’” he said, speaking in Kurdish through an interpreter. “They said ‘You make our country dirty.’”
Hajar, an Iraqi Kurd who is trying desperately to get to the European Union, asked that his surname not be published for fear of repercussions from Belarusian and Lithuanian authorities.
He said the commandos, clad in black and wearing masks, took the migrants’ phones and warned that they had taken video of the Kurds, who would receive a much worse beating if they returned.
Hajar limped back across the border and made his way back to Minsk to tend to his wounds in a budget hotel which he said was charging migrants $100 a night in exchange for not reporting them to the authorities for their expired visas.
Two days later, he said, the Belarus police again forced them to go to the border but he was too afraid to cross.
Hajar, who said he had spent $6,000 getting to Turkey and then Belarus, said he was fleeing a tribal dispute in Iraq that put his life in danger. A single father, he hopes to get to Britain to earn money to send back to his 14-year-old son and his sick mother.
He said he plans to try to cross the border again.
“I just want to cross even if I lose my life,” he said.
In the city of Sulaimaniya, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Reben Sirwan, a journalist, said he too had gone to Belarus, where he was shocked and beaten by Belarusian police officers as they deported him last week.
“On the stairs of the plane they hit me and took my phone because I was doing live reports,” he said.
Mr. Sirwan, 29, said he had received threats over his work in Kurdistan, and planned to apply for asylum in Belarus. But rather than hear his claim, the Belarusian authorities, he said, put him on a plane — not to Iraq but to Syria. In Syria, the police held him for four days before letting him return to Iraq, he said.
“Belarus, Poland and Lithuania are playing with people,” he said. “They move them up, down, left and right. They hurt them, beat them, steal their phones and take their money.”
Sangar Khaleel and Barzan Jabar contributed reporting.
Published at Wed, 10 Nov 2021 21:54:01 +0000