Wednesday, January 26

Despite their setbacks in Belarus, Iraqi migrants dream of leaving

After three weeks in the icy forests on the border between Belarus and Poland, Hussein, his wife and his mother returned to Iraq to their Yazidi camp for displaced persons. Despite the disappointments, “the cold” and “hunger”, Hussein dreams of leaving.

Settled in northern Iraq, the family was part of the flight that repatriated more than 400 people last Thursday, the vast majority of Iraqi Kurds.

In Belarus, between visas and daily expenses, Hussein Khodr spent more than 10,000 dollars. Without ever succeeding in rallying Western Europe.

At the border with Poland, “we were trying to cross the barbed wire. There were detectors sending a signal to the Polish police. They were disembarking and preventing us from passing,” says the thirty-something, who has relocated to the camp in Sharya, near Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

At the border, the family camped for twenty days in the rainforest. “We were hungry, we were thirsty, we were cold,” says Hussein, 36.

The seven Yazidi comrades who were traveling with Hussein arrived in Germany.

But the rheumatism of his mother Inaam, 57, prevented him from walking for long hours.

“We did not go in search of luxury, but to escape miserable conditions”, pleads the matriarch, purple scarf loosely thrown over her black hair.

Sitting on a foam mattress in her Spartan tent, she recalls a life of tragedies, with the contemporary history of Iraq and the Yazidis in the background. The minority adept at esoteric monotheism has been persecuted for centuries by Muslim extremists who consider them “satanists”.

– “We will leave” –

Widowed at 20, Inaam had to raise her newborn baby on her own when her husband died in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war. In 2005 and 2007, her son miraculously survived two terrorist attacks.

She also recounts her flight in the summer of 2014 when faced with the arrival in Sinjar of the jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) group. And the impossible return after the fighting, the destroyed house …

To leave Iraq, Hussein got into debt. He sold his wife and mother’s gold. For seven years, they have lived in a tent, crushed by the heat in summer, flooded by torrential rains in winter.

“We are always afraid of a short circuit that would burn the tent and its occupants,” says Hussein.

Here, he did odd jobs, launching a time in the repair of laptops.

“We have no more money, but as soon as we have it, we will leave,” he persists. I am not giving up on the idea of ​​emigrating ”.

He knows that it will not be done by Belarus. “We are banned from staying there for the next five years,” he adds learnedly.

– Social disparities –

The West accuses Belarus of artificially creating the crisis by issuing visas in revenge for Western sanctions. Minsk denied this accusation, criticizing the European Union for not welcoming migrants.

Since the crisis began this summer, at least 11 migrants have died, according to Polish media. Thousands of them, mostly Iraqi Kurds, are still stranded in the area.

And at the foot of the citadel of Erbil, capital of autonomous Kurdistan, we understand only too well their motivations.

“If I had the opportunity, I would leave today, before tomorrow,” confirms Ramadan Hamad, a 25-year-old Kurdish shoemaker.

Without a workshop, it is sitting on a sidewalk that he works a sole, thus illustrating his point: “the lack of a future and an economic situation that has become very difficult”.

“I know that with illegal emigration, I have a 90% chance of dying. But at least when I arrive, I would live in a society which respects the individual.”

The migratory crisis “tarnishes” the image cultivated by the autonomous region, which claims to be “the most secure place in Iraq,” said Adel Bakawan, director of the French Center for Research on Iraq (CFRI).

According to him, the flow is fueled by economic difficulties, but also a future strewn with geopolitical uncertainties: American disengagement, jihadist resurgence, conflict between neighboring Turkey and the PKK insurgents.

In an unstable Iraq, Kurdistan has always promoted a facade of prosperity and stability, seeking to attract foreign investors. Here we build with all our strength, boasting of being a bit like Dubai: five-star hotels, luxury real estate projects, universities and private schools.

But, “there is only one social class which has access to all this”, summarizes Mr. Bakawan. “A young Kurd cannot go on vacation, nor buy a house, nor go to a private school to study in English, nor have a job giving him social status”.

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