since the outbreak of the Syrian war nearly a decade ago, which followed the outbreak of popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad in various regions of the country in mid-March of 2011, Syrians have sought in various ways to reach Europe to obtain asylum or temporary protection in their countries. Also, they tried to reach the United States and Canada by the same methods, including by means of a fake passport, or travel from one country to another through a transit station that would be their destination for asylum.
The most famous route through which hundreds of thousands of Syrians arrived in Europe was by sea from Turkey or Libya, but in recent weeks, however, they have found a new way that is not considered dangerous compared to surfing, which is to reach by air to Belarus, which has a land border with Poland, and from there to Germany and other countries. However, they face many difficulties, and as a result, only dozens of them were able to reach Germany and other European countries, via Belarus.
Belarus requires Syrians to obtain a travel visa from its embassy in the capital, Damascus, and then those who obtain it can leave Beirut airport for the Belarusian capital, Minsk, as there are no international flights between it and Damascus. They can also travel from Erbil International Airport, located in the capital of the Kurdistan region, if they obtain a Belarus visa from travel agencies after issuing travel insurance and hotel reservations, as well as taking a test for the Corona virus, provided that their flight does not pass through a European transit station.
Syrians can also obtain a Belarusian visa in Turkey and travel from there to Minsk and then try to cross its land borders towards Poland and from there to European countries such as Germany and Belgium, where most of them are trying to reunite with their families.
In Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, the Syrians do not request a Belarus visa directly from its embassies or consulates, as they resort to travel agencies to secure the visa for an amount ranging from one thousand to two thousand US dollars. This amount does not include the price of a plane ticket to reach Minsk, according to what was reported to Majalla by two Syrian youths who tried unsuccessfully to reach Germany after their arrival in the Belarusian capital.
The first young man told his story to Majalla, saying: “I got a Belarus visa from a travel agency in Istanbul and paid $2,000 for it. I had a smuggler who told me that after you arrived in Minsk, it would take no more than 8 hours on foot to cross the Polish border, there is also a road through cars, but it is more expensive.”
“Indeed, I arrived in the Belarusian capital and had a hotel reservation for a week, and during my stay in the hotel, I got to know a second smuggler who was related to my first smuggler in Istanbul, both of whom are linked to an extensive human smuggling network between Belarus and Poland.”, he added.
He continued, “After two days of my stay at the hotel, he decided to meet me after I was communicating with him on the phone, and after that he brought me together with three other people who also wanted to get to Poland. We rode together in one bus, the driver of which was on his side, and we each paid a hundred dollars, and we went together towards the Polish border, but there the choices were difficult, worrying and expensive.”
He also revealed that “The cost of crossing to Poland is not just a hundred dollars, there are thousands of dollars that I left at an insurance office in Istanbul that will be handed over to the first smuggler if I cross the border, as did the others who accompanied me on my journey.”
He stressed that “Several times our bus was searched by the Belarusian police before reaching the border with Poland, and when they found that we hold Syrian citizenship, they took us back to Minsk in the same car and did not allow us to continue on our way.”
“After several attempts, we were left with no choice but to walk on foot to cross the border, and I did so in the woods and hills, despite the cold weather and the lack of food. However, this time the Polish border police stopped me before I crossed the border and handed me over to the Belarusian police.” he added.
This young Syrian describes himself as "lucky" that the Polish border police handed him over to the Belarusian police, as this saved him from living stuck in the woods in the international border area between Belarus and Poland, as has happened with hundreds of Syrians trapped in that region so far.
This young man and his friend who accompanied him on his journey were unable to reach Poland in the hope of reaching Germany, where the family of both men has lived for years. Thus, they were forced to return to Istanbul again after their visa expired.
Both men cautioned against traveling in this way, but nonetheless said that "the whole affair is governed by luck, as there are those we know who crossed into Poland and arrived in Germany after one crossing attempt, and there are those who got stuck in the border area between Belarus and Poland, and there are those who went back to where they started, just like what happened with us.”
On the other hand, Poland officially refuses to grant asylum to Syrians, Iraqis and other people who have entered Polish territory and failed to reach Germany or other European countries, despite European pressure on Poland to allow them to cross or grant them asylum.
Nevertheless, Poland has set up a number of temporary asylum centers, where people who have failed to continue their journey to European countries reside.
In Belarus, all those who arrived must leave its territory after the expiry of the visas they obtained. In addition, Minsk sometimes refuses to grant its visa to holders of Syrian citizenship without revealing the reasons.”
Majalla, on the other hand, obtained a copy of the passport of a Syrian citizen whose visa was refused by Minsk for unknown reasons.
Dozens of people posted pictures and video clips while trying to cross the Belarusian-Polish border, and warned of the dangers of the road, as it is rugged and surrounded by forests. Such routes are usually taken by Syrians seeking to reunite their families after many years of separation.
So far, only dozens of Syrians have been able to reach Germany safely via Belarus and Poland, but one of them said that the cost of access was exorbitant, as he paid about 15,000 US dollars through a "professional" network of smugglers.
Jiwan Soz is a researcher and journalist who focuses on Syrian and Turkish affairs and minorities in the Middle East. He is also a member of Syndicat National des Journalistes (National Syndicate of Journalists [SNJ]).