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Belarus clears refugee camp, easing border situation with Poland




BRUSSELS, Belarus Belarusian authorities on Thursday cleared camps at Poland’s main border crossing, where thousands of migrants had been living in cold and increasingly miserable conditions, removing a major flashpoint that has raised tensions across Europe.

The part of the land called the jungle by migrants just days ago, the site of violent clashes between asylum seekers trying to cross barbed wire and Polish security forces exploding with water cannons quickly became a garbage dump, abandoned tents and fires that burn.

The clearing of the camps eased the immediate suffering of migrants who had lived in the open air in miserable conditions as they were relocated by Belarusian authorities to a giant warehouse. And he pushed the pressure beyond a border the European Union had seen with growing alarm, fearing it would be trampled by a new wave of migrants, even if Western leaders and Poland are skeptical that the volatile blockade is coming to an end.

The situation also left Belarusian President Alexander G. Lukashenko with a troubling dilemma: what to do with all the people he lured to Belarus, but who, blocked by entry into Europe, are fast becoming a heavy burden for the country. his?

Zana Ahmed, a 26-year-old Iraqi Kurd who spent about $ 5,000 to reach the border with Poland, a few meters from the European Union, vowed to stay in Belarus until he died if he did not gain entry. Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken the lead in trying to find a diplomatic way out of the crisis, talking to Mr Lukashenko, but has given no hint that she will repeat the welcome offer she made to immigrants in 2015, when more that a million people were poured into Germany.

On Thursday, accompanied by Belarusian guards wearing black hoods and Kalashnikov rifles, a cortege of migrants rushed across the border, abandoning their border camps as a devastated army. Hundreds more were cleared from the site and relocated to the warehouse on Wednesday.

By nightfall, what had been a makeshift settlement spread by thousands of people desperate to enter the European Union, had become a frightening silent desert. Scattered across the land were remnants of migrant efforts in recent weeks to enter or break rubber boots, pruning shears, a saw, a lever and means of survival in the frozen forests crossing the border.

Despite fleeing the immediate vicinity of the border to shelter from the cold in the warehouse, many migrants hoped they could still reach Europe and, in case of failure, settle in Belarus instead of being forced to return to home, which for many is Iraq.

Yuri Karayev, an aide to Mr Lukashenko who represents the border region around Grodno, declined to answer questions about what awaits migrants now that they have given up the forested border land they have occupied for weeks, but not their desire to go to Europe.

Poland, backed by other members of the European Union, shows no sign of giving up its hardline stance against migrants trying to enter the country. The Prime Minister of Poland told a German newspaper that by protecting our border, we are protecting the whole of Europe.

Under the gray darkness of the November sky, phalanxes of Polish soldiers remained in formation Thursday around the Bruzgi border crossing, still surrounded by water cannons used on Tuesday to repel a push of migrants to Poland from Belarus. The government in Warsaw had consistently portrayed immigrants as an invading mob, but now they had suddenly disappeared, at least out of sight.

Polish officials said Thursday they had registered 501 attempts to cross the border from Belarus in the past 24 hours and, reiterating a claim made daily by Warsaw, accused Belarusian security officials of leading groups of migrants trying to violate kufirin. The immigrants give contradictory accounts as to whether their attacks in Poland, almost all unsuccessful, were aided by Belarus.

Poland, unlike Belarus, has barred all journalists and aid workers from approaching the border, making it impossible to assess the veracity of its often militant claims.

On a dirt road on the Belarus side of the border, a few hundred meters from the Bruzgi crossing, a red-white Polish flag fluttered near an abandoned immigrant shelter made of pine branches. A campfire was still burning outside the shelter, where freshly cut logs had been piled up in preparation for a long siege.

Immigrants withdraw from what the European bloc has described as the first line of a hybrid war launched by Mr Lukashenko is likely to reduce border tensions, although it is unclear for how long.

The group of 7 major industrial powers criticized the Belarusian leader in a statement Thursday, accusing it of orchestrating irregular migration across its borders.

At the moment, most of the migrants housed in the warehouse which is located less than a mile from the Bruzgi border crossing say they do not intend to return home.

An Iraqi repatriation flight departed from Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Thursday, transporting several hundred migrants who had renounced entry into the European bloc. The plane, a Boeing 747 operated by Iraqi Airways, the national carrier, landed Thursday evening in Erbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, and then headed for Baghdad.

Many Iraqis are still stockpiled, however, saying they do not plan to take future flights to Iraq.

I will stay here for months or years and if they try to deport me to Iraq, I will go back to the jungle, vowed Suleiman Sabah, an Iraqi Kurd who arrived at the warehouse tightening plastic bags with dirty clothes and clean blankets provided by Belarusian air. workers.

Dalia Ahmed, another Iraqi Kurd, said she had been desperate to get out of the border camp since Tuesday when her two young sons were hit by explosions of frozen water from Polish water cannons and shivered in convulsively overnight.

Captured by the thin threads of hope provided by wild rumors circulating among migrants about an imminent airlift to Germany and a possible Vatican intervention to persuade devout Catholic Poland to give up, she said: Maybe the Pope will help us go to Europe.

Mr Sabah said he had agreed to leave the border camp on Thursday after hearing unfounded rumors that Germany would soon be taking people out of the warehouse, believing that leaving the camp was the best way to get a ticket.

Belarusian security officials, he said, had not used force to persuade people to leave the border, but made it clear that if you do not go yourself, you will be forced to leave.

For Masoud Mahdi, 35, who had spent 11 days in the jungle with his pregnant wife and young daughter, it was enough to get out of the cold. We lived worse than dogs, he said as he walked to the warehouse.

Last night was impossible, he added. It was raining and frosty and we had to leave.

However, Mr. Mahdi said he did not want to return to Iraqi Kurdistan. He wanted to go to Germany. “If they send me back to Iraq, I will kill myself,” he said.

Marc Santora AND Anatol Magdziarz contributed to reporting from Warsaw; AND Jane Arraf from Baghdad and Sangar Khaleelfrom Erbil, Iraq.




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