November 29, 2021

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Migrants are said to have been lured into Belarus by fake travel tours - VG

Migrants are said to have been lured into Belarus by fake travel tours – VG

SOKOLKA / OSLO (VG) Immigrants talk about travel agencies selling “tours” to EU countries via Belarus. In fact, they meet a closed border, and become a cut-throat in a political game – and lives are on the line.

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Documents obtained by VG, which were found on the border between Poland and Belarus, and published in Wirtualna Polska, among others, seem to corroborate the allegations that the Polish authorities used as a reason for closing the border:

Torn travel documents, identity papers, receipts from travel agencies in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, Corona certificates with stamps from Syria and Iraq.

Evidence points to what VG has received from reports from sources in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, in the Lebanese capital Beirut and in the Turkish city of Istanbul: a new route to Belarus has been established by travel agencies selling migrants apparently in false hopes. entry into the European Union.

background: Frozen to death at the border: the use of migrants in violation of the European Union

European Union: the crisis is orchestrated

One of the travel agencies mentioned in the documents has a website that offers comprehensive tours of the “Beach Holiday Resort” that is not in Belarus. VG browsed the pages, translating the show from Arabic.

But many of those who bought such “group trips” told Polish activists that what they actually get is a one-way ticket with an entry permit to the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

As previously reported by VG, Poland declared a state of emergency at the border, erecting barbed wire fences and deploying armed soldiers against the flood of migrants. The same is happening, albeit on a smaller scale, in Latvia and Lithuania.

For migrants who end up in a no-man’s land or are sent back and forth between EU countries in the east and the authoritarian regime in Belarus, this can have serious consequences: At least six people were reported to have been frozen to death, warned the UN in the VG article.

The background of the crisis is that the Baltic states and Poland are taking refuge Belarusian opposition against President Alexander Lukashenko, He is often referred to as the last dictator in Europe.

The European Union has accused Belarus of orchestrating the floods of migrants in retaliation for European Union sanctions against the regime’s handling of the country’s opposition.

Polish media and politicians accused Belarusian intelligence of being involved.

Already in May, Lukashenko warned that he would no longer prevent migrants from moving to the EU, as a punishment for the EU’s tightening of sanctions against Belarus.

From Syria through northern Iraq

In recent weeks, the Polish authorities have tried to prevent aid organizations and journalists from reaching the border areas where a large number of migrants reside.

But in a reception center in the city of Bialystok, many immigrants were met by independent Polish VG employees. Those VG spoke to had very different stories, but they went through Belarus because they thought it was a route to the EU.

– We are from Qamishli, northern Syria. I’ve always wanted to get my family out of the country, and I’ve heard it’s possible to get to Europe via Belarus, says the Syrian Kurdish “Hassan,” who traveled with his wife and two children.

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– I thought: This is our chance. I found an online travel agency that sells tours to Belarus. It included an official tourist visa and airline tickets from Erbil in northern Iraq to Dubai and from there to Minsk, and hotel accommodation in Minsk. He says it costs roughly four thousand dollars per person.

from Iraq. A group of migrants from Iraq stopped at the Belarus-Poland border.

Hassan, who does not want to be photographed, further says that the family left Minsk after one night and was taken to the border with Poland. After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border on foot, they were helped by several Belarusian men in a white truck, it is not known if they were armed.

In the end, the family was transported across a small border river in small plastic boats, and they landed in Poland in the middle of the night. After walking through a wooded area, they reached an asphalt road the next day. There they stopped a car that called the police and was taken to the reception center.

The family hopes that they will be among the few who can actually seek asylum in Poland.

– I know that it is easier to receive you when you are from Syria, you have a family with children, and you are in poor condition. But many were sent back to the Belarusian border. He said we met many of them in the border area.

From Cuba via Moscow

VG’s freelance reporter also interviewed two Cuban immigrants, after they were arrested by the Polish police. They say about a more special trip to Belarus:

The Cubans say they have flown to Moscow because they do not need a visa to enter Russia. From there they flew to Minsk, where they easily arranged transportation to the border.

– This is the third time we cross into Poland. Each time we were arrested and sent to Belarus. There we were beaten by the border guards, and brought back to Poland, says Miguel.

He gives VG the opportunity to call his sister who lives in Spain. The next day, Miguel was sent out of Poland, and told through his sister that he had again been subjected to violence at the border by Belarusian border guards.

He says that the guards first took him to the Lithuanian border, but he did not enter the country either. When did he help return to Minsk.

Poland and Belarus deny the use of violence against migrants, blaming each other for the humanitarian crisis at the border.

note: VG was unable to verify immigrant stories about the itinerary, or allegations of violence being used. But their stories are consistent with what a large number of immigrants have explained to the Polish and international media, like BBC.