Iraqi toddler finds shelter in Minsk after deportation from Poland

Arias, 2, was deported with his family after the second of two failed crossings

Arias at a hostel in Belarus after he was returned from Poland.
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A 2-year-old and his family, whose ordeal stuck between Poland and Belarus was recounted in The National, finally crossed the border at the weekend, but they were turned back just a few hours after entering the European Union, charity officials have revealed.

Teachers Hiwa and Shamam and their son Arias managed to elude border officials and travel 13 kilometres into Poland before they were spotted by the authorities in the forests of eastern Poland. Their taste of freedom was fleeting, ending in deportation.

The family are now in Minsk, where they stayed in a hostel for a night and were in better spirits after a rare opportunity to wash themselves after three weeks in the forests at the border.

The family — Iraqi Kurds — flew to Minsk in Belarus, at the end of October and travelled to the border in an attempt to make a new life for themselves in Europe. They and hundreds of others were trapped for days as Poland refused to let anyone across the border, and Belarus refused to let them back into the country.

In a series of messages to human rights activists, the family told of their suffering in the sub-zero night-time temperatures, of how they were forced to ration water, and the desperate uncertainty as the two governments fought a diplomatic battle over their plight.

The family told charity workers they finally managed to cross the border in the last week — only progressing by 300 metres on one occasion, but travelling deep into the forests inside Poland after getting past border officials.

A Polish woman allowed the family to stay briefly at her holiday home after spotting them making their way into Poland. They set off early the following morning but had only travelled four kilometres with two other men when they were stopped.

The family told Sanna Figlarowicz, a Polish volunteer human rights activist, that they asked for asylum and international protection when they were taken to an immigration office were sent back into Belarus.

“When they were in need [at the centre] they were unable to contact anyone because of a problem with the internet,” she said. “And then their phones were taken away.”

Aid groups say at least 11 migrants have died on both sides of the border since the crisis began in the summer, and have criticised the Polish government for pushing migrants back.

But the future for the family remains uncertain. They do not want to return to Iraq, Ms Figlarowicz said. She is hoping that a country will come forward and offer the family asylum after learning of their plight.

The family is among thousands who have travelled through Belarus and attempted to enter Poland since the summer, with the border crisis peaking earlier this month.

The EU has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating the movement of thousands of people across his country, in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the bloc after rigged elections in 2020 that kept him in power with a landslide victory.

He has denied co-ordinating the mass migration. Several thousand people remain close to the border but hundreds of Iraqi-Kurds have already returned to Minsk after giving up on their European dream.

Two Iraqi planes took off on Thursday night for Belarus to repatriate more than 600 Iraqis, the latest of hundreds who have been returned since last week.

Updated: November 27, 2021, 6:21 AM