Two flights brought hundreds of Iraqis who had sought to enter the EU back to Iraq from Belarus on Friday, as more migrants begin to lose hope of entering the prosperous bloc.
The planes touched down in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, in the early hours, carrying about 600 Iraqis, mostly Kurds, the Kurdistan government and officials at Erbil airport said.
Many of the passengers said they were relieved to be home.
“I don't want to go back along that route. It was bad, there was a lot of rain and snow,” said Malak Hassan, 11, whose family had tried to get across the Belarus border into the EU.
Awat Qader, from Kurdistan, said he had seen migrants beaten while he camped near the Belarus-Lithuania border, and that he would not try the journey again.
“We had to pay a lot of money even just to get back to Minsk” from the border, he said.
Iraqis who fled seeking economic opportunity and in some cases political asylum began returning to their country a week ago, after failing to get into the EU via a route that smugglers promised them would work. The first repatriation flight last week carried about 400 Iraqis.
The EU accuses Minsk of creating the crisis as part of a “hybrid attack” on the bloc — distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying in the migrants and pushing them to cross the border illegally. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis.
A lack of opportunities and basic services in Iraq, as well as a political system that most Iraqis say is corrupt and nepotistic, mean ordinary people see little chance of a decent life there.