Migrants are said to have been lured to Belarus through fake travel tours

SOKOLKA / OSLO (VG) Immigrants speak of travel agencies that sell “tours” to EU countries through Belarus. In fact, they hit a closed border and become cutthroats in a political game – and lives are at stake.

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

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

Indications of what VG has received from reports from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the Lebanese capital Beirut and the Turkish city of Istanbul: Travel agencies that are apparently selling migrants in false hopes have set up a new route to Belarus. Entry into the European Union.

Background: Frozen to death at the border: The use of migrants violates 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 outside of Belarus. VG searched the pages and translated the broadcast from Arabic.

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

As the VG already reported, Poland declared a state of emergency at the border, erected barbed wire fences and deployed armed soldiers against the flow of migrants. The same is happening, albeit to a lesser extent, in Latvia and Lithuania.

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

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

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

Polish media and politicians accused the Belarusian secret service of being involved.

Lukashenko warned in May that as a punishment for tightening EU sanctions against Belarus, migrants would no longer be prevented from moving to the EU.

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 many migrants are staying.

But in a reception center in the city of Bialystok, many immigrants were received by independent Polish VG employees. Those VG spoke to had very different stories, but they were walking around Belarus thinking it was a road 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 that it is possible to come to Europe via Belarus, says the Syrian-Kurdish “Hassan”, who has traveled with his wife and two children.

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

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

Hassan, who does not want to be photographed, goes on to say that the family left Minsk after one night and were 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 whether they were armed.

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

The family hopes to be among the few who can actually apply for asylum in Poland.

– I know that it is easier to see you when you are from Syria, have a family with children and are in poor condition. However, 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 Polish police. They say about a more special trip to Belarus:

The Cubans say they flew to Moscow because they don’t need a visa to enter Russia. From there they flew to Minsk, where they easily organized the transport to the border.

– This is the third time that we have reached Poland. Each time we were arrested and sent to Belarus. There we were beaten by the border guards and taken back to Poland, says Miguel.

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

He says the guards took him to the Lithuanian border first, but he didn’t enter either. When did he help to return to Minsk?

Poland and Belarus deny the use of force against migrants and hold each other responsible for the humanitarian crisis on the border.

Note: VG was unable to verify immigrants’ stories about the itinerary or allegations of use of force. But their stories are in line with what a large number of immigrants have explained to Polish and international media such as the BBC.

About Scott Bertsch

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