It is a day Iraqi businesspeople thought they might never see in their lifetimes. Thousands of immigrants crossed the Syrian border Monday from Belarus, many headed for other destinations in Iraq, Europe, and beyond.
Over 100,000 Iraqis are currently in Belarus, and the large-scale mass deportation was a response to stronger-than-expected tourism numbers.
The Iraqi immigrants currently in Belarus were given an additional 30 days to leave following the passage of asylum legislation introduced in Iraq in January. They have been granted two more months to leave the country under the latest legislation.
Iraqi Affairs Minister Fayez al-Shouni said Monday on his Facebook page that a “step into the unknown” had taken place.
“We call on the relevant authorities to turn refugees and Iraqis in Belarus into a step in the right direction. The political, economic and economic disadvantages they experienced before are still very real,” he added.
He also said his ministry had sent a letter to the General Prosecutor of Belarus asking that it “understand the reasons for the regulations and the Iraqi concerns.”
Some Iraqis claimed that the gathering of everyone by federal authorities could have led to a dangerous situation if the Iraqis in Belarus were not informed that they had to leave the country and return to their own nation in 48 hours or they would be deported.
The Iraqi immigrants said that this was the first time that they had received any notice that they had to leave or go back to Iraq.
“I want to return home because I feel safe here,” said 37-year-old Anwar Hossam. “For the past 20 years I have never lived in Iraq, and I still do not have a passport. I feel unsafe here, and that’s why I want to go back to my country.”
Retired engineer Khalifa Kashani said, “I left because I did not feel safe and that I will not receive justice from the government,” adding, “I will live somewhere else. I will get a new job and start again from scratch.”
Omar Kassem, an Iraqi at risk of deportation, told The WorldPost, “No one took care of us here. I worked for them for eight years, but I want to go back to my home country.”
“We are a class of Iraqi refugees, they give us a status. Let’s just be a class of Iraqi citizens,” he added.
He and other Iraqi immigrants said they would try to try again to reach European Union countries.
These remittances from Iraqi immigrants in Belarus are creating difficulties for the country’s banks.
Fayez Hadi Salih, chairman of the Iraq Central Bank, stated in a press conference on Monday that the Iraqi banking system would suffer if the immigrants were to return home, for example when Iraqi businessmen invest their money back in their own economy.
The decision to deport Iraqi immigrants may also affect domestic crime, as the deputy prosecutor general for Belarus, Rupak Zhakaratschenko, confirmed to Radio Sute on Monday that the immigrants detained in recent months had criminal records in Iraq.
The latest deportation of Iraqis leaves more than 14,000 refugees in Belarus, according to NGO Aid Syria. Another 550 Iraqi refugees are in the process of being sent back to Iraq.
Khalid Talabani, deputy head of Iraq’s refugee and migrant affairs department, said Iraqi immigrants who have chosen to remain in Belarus could return to Iraq voluntarily and would be granted $15,000 to return home.
However, the most recent deportation of tens of thousands of refugees from Belarus shows that Iraq is failing to maintain an effective program for combating forced deportations and integrating refugees and migrants into the economy and society.
Salih was among Iraqis sent back to Baghdad via civil aviation over the weekend, with Kalina from the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi saying that they were given one month to leave. The six Iraqis were forced to line up in the morning and then make their way to the airport for transportation to Baghdad, where they were handed over to the central security forces for deportation.