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Highway and cheap refugee route through Belarus attracts Iraqis to the European Union

Highway and cheap refugee route through Belarus attracts Iraqis to the European Union

Muntazer Ali Shaker, 24, and three other young Iraqis traveled from their homeland to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in late July on a tourist visa. The goal was to reach the European Union through the Belarusian-Lithuanian border.

After the plane landed in Minsk, they shared a taxi that would take them as close to the border as possible, Shakir told DN.

They waited until dark and then walked through a forest in Lithuania for about nine hours.

– We were scared at first and had a little remorse. But the more we go into the country, the more optimistic we become, says Shakir.

The next morning they collided On the Lithuanian police who took them to a closed camp. The camp was opened specifically for this refugee route. It is located – according to the subdivision of the site sent by Shakir to DN – in a forested area near the town of Salcininkai, approximately 40 km west of the border and 50 km south of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

– We were very happy that we were able to cross the border. But the situation here in the camp is poor, Shakir says and explains:

– We get one meal a day. The water is hardly drinkable. Rain seeps through the tents. If someone needs emergency medical care, the ambulance will not arrive until several hours later. We got the cell phones back after we needed.

There are about 800 refugees in the camp, most of them from Iraq. Few are Syrians, Afghans and Africans.

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Shakir and his travel companions They have not yet applied for asylum in Lithuania and have not been told what to expect.

In the Facebook groups examined by DN, it is noticeable that many of them managed to leave the camps in Lithuania and move to Western Europe.

Shakir himself does not think much about where he wants to seek asylum.

Any country that provides me with housing and security will be good. Anything but Iraq. Life is no longer possible.

Germany is his first choice. There he has many relatives and hopes to find a job.

Lithuanian border police patrol the border with Belarus near Porvinai, south of Vilnius.

Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

It only took a few days The cost of Shaker’s transportation from Iraq to Lithuania was 10,000 kroner. The amount is very low and the time is short compared to other refugee routes, for example from the Middle East and Africa via Turkey, Greece or Egypt/Libya and Italy.

At the same time, these methods are becoming more difficult and dangerous. This is why many – including families with young children – choose to travel to Belarus to try to get to an EU country.

In an interview with DN, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda claimed that the Belarusian system also facilitates refugee arrivals in Lithuania.

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Lithuanian President Gitanas Nosida

Photo: Beatrice Lundborg

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

Photo: Dmitriy Astakhov

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Lithuanian President Gitanas Nosida.

Photo: Beatrice Lundborg


A few days after Shakir appeared I managed to cross the Lithuanian border, it became difficult to take this road. The refugees then concentrated on heading south towards Poland, and then north towards Latvia. Then these countries strengthened border control.

Several videos recently circulating on social media and on YouTube show how men, women and young children are trapped at the Belarusian borders with Lithuania and Poland. People are sitting on the ground, surrounded by soldiers standing in a row on either side of the border. Lithuania and Poland will not allow them to enter and Belarus will not allow them to return. In a video, someone said they sat like this for seven days.

The person who was returned to Belarus is 23-year-old Iraqi Ahmed Basem.

DN was in contact with him immediately after returning to Minsk airport, after he was arrested by Lithuanian soldiers inside Lithuania.

Ahmed Basim

Ahmed Basim

Photo: private

– We contacted a smuggler who promised to take us when we were able to enter the country. We paid 300 USD (about 2700 kroner) each. But he didn’t come, as he says in the name of the DN.

– The Lithuanian army treated us very harshly. Some people tore their passports. The soldiers also divorced a pregnant woman from her husband and their six children. When the man objected they beat him.

Then the group headed south against Poland. They didn’t have long before the border guards brought them back. Bassem decided to listen to his parents, boarded a plane, and returned to Iraq. But he did not lose hope.

He will be contacted by DN later after he has reached his hometown of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

– I’m back to the hard life here. But I will try again. I’m just waiting for the right time.

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