PEREGRAF - Haval Ghalib and Sangar Salar
"I’m asking you to please let the people know about our situation, campaign through social media. A catastrophe is on the way in those forests. We lost a child, let's not lose other children. It's very cold, help us," a Kurdish migrant on the Polish-Belarusian border told PEREGRAF on the phone.
Nabil Mudryk holds a master's degree but due to his bad economic situation, livelihood and hopelessness in its improvement, he took the road to Belarus hoping to reach Europe.
Mudryk has been in the forests on the Polish border for several days with hundreds of families who spend their days in hunger and cold.
"The children are out of milk, we have old and sick people with no medicine, we are cold and hungry, we make fires because of the cold. If this issue is not solved and if it starts raining in the next two days, people will lose what they have left," said Mudryk.
"We only have the clothes we are wearing, and we are at risk of freezing to death," said the Kurdish migrant, hoping his voice will be heard by officials. "Please do whatever you can."
The bitter situation the migrants are in and the depressing videos circulating in the media have caught worldwide attention. Some of these migrants that have not been able to endure the situation, and are hopeless that they will reach Europe, have returned to the Kurdistan Region after spending a lot of money, like Ahmed's family.
Ahmed*, who returned to Sulaimaniyah with his wife from the Polish border, recalled the tragic stories from his departure and told them to PEREGRAF.
The start of a dead-end journey
Hoping to reach Europe and start a new life, Ahmed and his family traveled from Sulaimaniyah airport to Turkey on October 23, then to Belarus.
After landing at Minsk airport, they were taken to a hotel where they would stay for two days, arranged by the company that provided them with the visa to Belarus and took $3,500 per person. From there, they made their way to the Polish border.
"There were six of us. After we got out of the car and walked for a while, two police showed up and asked us where we were going. There was a guy with us, he told them we were going to Poland. At first, they treated us nicely but they later beat us and said they should go back to Minsk," said Ahmed.
The migrants had previously made arrangements on the phone with a smuggler to take each person to Germany for $4,500 with a guide. So after their encounter with the police, they called the smuggler.
"The smugglers sent us a guide, we were on the way for three nights and days before we reached the border between Belarus and Poland. We fell asleep because we were very tired. The guide had touched the border wire, the border police found us and arrested us shortly after, because the wire is very sensitive and gives warning to the police," he added.
Ahmed said the police were looking for a wire-cutting tool, but they didn't have it. "They kicked us once and told us to go back, telling us there is water on this side of the Polish border and your children will drown. We went back a bit then back to the border at 3:00 am. This time, we were 22 people, and we touched the wire on purpose so the police knows about us and we would beg them to take us across the border."
"Within one minute, the police arrived and told us that the Polish police had brought dogs and would not let us through. We asked them for water and they said "We don't have it." We were dying from thirst and tiredness," he said.
The refugees were forced to ask for a taxi from their smugglers, who sent them five taxis to return to Minsk, for which each person had to pay $300.
After their return, Ahmed's family were not allowed to stay in any hotel because their visa had expired, they had to stay on the streets until their visa was extended for two days with some money and after "a lot of humiliation" so that they could return to the Kurdistan Region.
According to Ahmed, the road is very difficult and people can barely cross the border into Poland. "A large number of Kurds are trapped in the forest, and there were people who had eaten grass for 13 days because of hunger," he said.
Ahmed and his wife spent $10,000 on their journey. They eventually returned on November 4, who said he still hopes he will have an opportunity again to leave.
The situation is frightening, don’t trust smugglers: the Kurdistan Regional Government
Migrants have been staying in forests on the Polish border for days, waiting to be allowed entry into the country. The temperature in the area falls below zero at night, making it all the more difficult for them, especially for the children. Several cases of death were also recorded.
The Polish government has repeatedly warned migrants that they will not be allowed to enter the country, it also accuses Belarus of creating this migration crisis on its countries borders.
Tensions between the European Union and Belarus have recently soared due to sanctions on Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko due to widely disputed election results from which he claimed presidency for the sixth term, and subsequent crackdown on mass protests.
The majority of the migrants who are now in Belarus are from the Kurdistan Region, although Iraq closed down offices of Belarus in Baghdad and Erbil to prevent people from leaving, migration continues.
"There are no exact statistics of Kurdish migrants in Belarus, it’s all estimates," said Ari Jalal, head of the Summit Foundation (Lutka) for migration.
"What the Iraqi government has done is not a solution, people will find other solutions, for example, they will get a Belarusian visa. Yes, there is still a way to go to Belarus and the [travel] agencies are also doing it," said Jalal.
Jalal believes that the solution is with the international countries "The solution is that all European Union countries should feel responsible for the fate of the group of migrants that are in this situation. The number of migrants is not so many that they cannot respond to their demands, and they can distribute them between European countries," he said.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has called the situation of Kurdish refugees on the borders of Belarus a "catastrophe" and said they are in serious efforts to solve it.
"We have talked with the Belarus ambassador to Turkey and asked them not to make our nation a part of their conflict between the European Union, and to at least help the migrants survive the adversity," Safin Dizayee, head of the foreign relations department in the Kurdistan Region said in a press conference following a meeting with relevant ministries on Wednesday.
At the same press conference, KRG spokesperson JotiarAdil, owed the migration of the youth to security and economic issues, admitting that this cabinet has been aware of this issue since the beginning. "Work has been done to provide job opportunities for the youth. We have provided more than 120,000 jobs in the past two years," he said.
Photos and videos of the migrants published on social media were met with different reactions from the people and the government faced harsh criticism.
"The photos we see on the borders of Belarus, Poland and Lithuania are a catastrophe. We ask the citizens not to give up their fate to human trafficking networks and smugglers. We don’t support forced deportation but whoever wants to willfully return, we will help them," said Dizayee.
Dizayee told journalists the story of a Kurdish family, saying, "A pregnant woman gave birth to twins in Belarus. One of them died, the other survived and they have to pay so much money, and the hospital has kept the child and says: If you don't pay the money, we will give the child to foster care," adding that they are ready to help the family.
"A family pays $15,000 to $20,000 and faces an unknown fate. It's really a catastrophe," said Dizayee.
*Name has been changed at their request