Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons

Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons
Belarus has been accused of offering migrants tourist visas and helping them across its border. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 October 2021

Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons

Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons
  • Thousands seek “tourist visas” after Belarus accused of helping asylum-seekers across its border
  • In the past two months, more than 16,000 undocumented migrants are believed to have entered the EU from Belarus

BEIRUT: Struggling to cope with soaring living costs and low wages, desperate Syrian refugees and workers are abandoning Lebanon and turning to a new migration route into Europe, via Belarus, with many risking their lives and family savings in the process.

An illegal Syrian worker who arrived in Beirut four years ago and lives with his 20-year-old sister in the capital told Arab News that “working in Lebanon no longer makes sense.”

“I work all day long delivering goods to be paid 50,000 Lebanese pounds (equivalent to $2.50 on the black market),” Ahmed said. “That is not nearly enough because of the rising costs.”

In the past two months alone, more than 16,000 undocumented migrants are believed to have entered the EU from Belarus after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko responded to Brussels-imposed sanctions by saying he will no longer stop asylum-seekers from crossing into neighboring Poland.

Belarus has been accused of offering migrants tourist visas and helping them across its border — a move that appears to have made the previous migrant route through Turkey and on to the Greek islands a thing of the past.

Arab and foreign airlines arranging trips to Belarus through Lebanon have seen demand surge since September, while Syrians have been queuing outside the General Directorate of Public Security’s offices in Beirut for hours to have their passports returned or to pay residency fees.

Lebanese citizens can obtain a visa for Belarus once they arrive at Minsk airport. However, Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians are required to get a tourist visa in advance.

Ahmed told Arab News that he found a video on TikTok of Syrians talking about their trip to Belarus, then Poland and finally to Germany, and claiming that the journey is less risky than traveling by sea.

“I am now getting my documents ready to leave before the end of October, because things will not get easier after that because of the conditions in winter,” he said.

Migrants undertaking the journey face hazardous conditions, with freezing overnight temperatures and the risk of getting lost in dense forests along the 500 km frontier. They must also deal with people smugglers of different nationalities who demand thousands of dollars in advance payments.

Social media posts offer details about the journey and the sums migrants can expect to pay. Those who reach their final destination reassure their families that they have arrived at “the camp” — an expression refugees use to describe salvation, as they pursue a “better life.”

Ali, 35, who has worked as a janitor in Beirut’s suburbs for more than 10 years, said that friends who completed the migration route called him via WhatsApp and “seemed very happy.”

However, Ali said that he would not consider making the trip. “Migrants must be young. There is no place for families on such an arduous journey.”

Belarus’ announcement at the end of May that it would not stop migrants from entering Europe came in response to a series of EU sanctions imposed after Belarusian authorities forced a passenger plane to land in Minsk and seized opposition journalist Roman Protasevich who was on board.

Following the incident, the EU banned Belarusian carriers from using its airspace and airports.

A Syrian worker, who declined to be named, said: “Syrians in Syria and Lebanon have heard stories about migration to Belarus, then on to Europe, since August, but they remained skeptical about this route until September.”

He added: “Those who work legally in Lebanon have the right to travel from Beirut International Airport and the right to return to Lebanon as long as their residency permits are valid, but if a refugee wishes to leave Lebanon and go to Belarus, they are required to sign a document stating they will never come back.”

The website of the Belarusian Consulate in Lebanon provides instructions on obtaining an entry visa for Belarus, with a list of required documents and visa fees. Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians need a tourist visa to enter the country, and must provide the name of the airline, a passport valid for at least six months, and an insurance policy that costs €12 ($14). A single-entry visa costs €25.

The embassy’s website has been overwhelmed with questions from Syrians seeking a “tourist visa for one week.”

Three airlines, Syrian Air, Emirates and Turkish, fly to Minsk from Lebanon. According to Syrians, the flights “are fully booked by tourists.”

Ahmed said: “The tourism office asked me to pay $4,000 for the visa, a one-week hotel reservation and a ticket. When I get to Belarus, I will have to wait with a group of 10 or 15 people for someone who will get us a mobile phone with Internet access and a pinned location on the Belarusian-Polish border that we are supposed to reach by foot, crossing through a forest on the frontier.”

He said that the journey might take hours. “When we reach the location, a car will be waiting for us on the Polish side of the border to get us into Germany. There, we will turn ourselves in and ask for asylum. To get from Belarus to Poland, my family must transfer $3,000 to an account in Turkey, whose owners will handle the cost of the next phase, from Poland to Germany.”

Crossing from Belarus into Poland is getting increasingly difficult.

Ali was told by his friends that “the Belarusian police turn a blind eye to those walking in the jungle, but the Polish security authorities have very strict measures. If they catch people trying to cross the borders illegally, they send them back to Belarus. However, asylum-seekers do not give up. They keep trying. Those who fail to reach the location, return to their hotels and try again the next day.”

He said that “those who handle the smuggling operation are from different nationalities, and might be Belarusian, Iraqi or Syrian.”

Ali also said that his relative “got lucky while crossing the jungle, as he fell and injured his leg, but there was a Syrian doctor in the group, who is also an asylum-seeker.”

Poland said that its border patrols have detained hundreds of migrants since August. Groups of migrants include Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees, as well those from Turkey and Jordan.

According to press reports, several asylum-seekers have died of exhaustion as temperatures in the forests on the Belarusian-Polish border plummet.

The Polish Press Agency reported that the body of a 19-year-old Syrian man who drowned in the Bug River on the border was found on Wednesday.


Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV
Updated 8 sec ago

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV
DUBAI: Syrian state television reported on Sunday that multiple explosions had been heard inside the US base in the Al-Tanf region in eastern Homs, near the Iraqi border.

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity
Updated 17 min 49 sec ago

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity
  • The two discussed their vision of what the relationship between followers of religions should be
  • Last month, Sheikh Al-Tayeb met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the Religious Leaders on Climate Change summit

Cairo: Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, held a meeting in the Vatican with Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to discuss how to implement the provisions of the Document on Human fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.

This joint statement, which was signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Al-Tayeb on Feb. 4, 2019, in Abu Dhabi, includes various proposed solutions from a religious standpoint to the current problems facing the world.

During the meeting Sheikh Al-Tayeb said that “the relationship of Al-Azhar and the Vatican remains an effective and real model for spreading tolerance and peace and combating extremism, hatred, wars and conflicts, and that the path of peace and dialogue is a difficult path, but the path is moving and making efforts,” adding that the world is in urgent need of the values of brotherhood, peaceful coexistence and respect for the other.

He stressed that religious leaders and scholars have a religious and societal duty to confront negative phenomena, especially with regard to moral aspects.

The two discussed their vision of what the relationship between followers of religions should be, and the role that religions should play in our contemporary world. The document seeks to activate dialogue about coexistence among human beings.

Ayuso said that the Grand Imam and His Holiness Pope Francis had the courage to fight battles for the good of humanity, and that the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity was not an easy thing.

But their persistence and sincerity helped to break barriers and repair broken bridges between some Muslims and Christians, and continued the dialogue between Al-Azhar and the Vatican after a rupture of nearly six years. They said they had begun to reap the fruits of this document in a rapprochement not only at the level of official institutions and institutes, but also between individuals among the wider masses.

Ayuso spoke about the great efforts of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity that emerged from the document, noting that this committee includes religious and cultural leaders from different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds around the world.

He said that even in their diversity the members of the committee represent a group of friends loyal to their humanity, united by their concern to work for mankind and end its suffering. They seek to replace hatred with love and intolerance with dialogue, especially between young people, to ensure healthy relations and a better future for coming generations.

Last month, Sheikh Al-Tayeb met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the Religious Leaders on Climate Change summit, where they said that returning to the teachings of religions is the way to save the world from extremism and division.


Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks
Updated 05 December 2021

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks
  • Israel has been watching with concern as world powers sit down with Iran to jump-start talks on the tattered nuclear deal
  • Talks in Vienna aimed at re-imposing curbs on Iran’s nuclear program restarted last week after a more than five-month hiatus

TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday urged world powers to take a hard line against Iran in negotiations to curb the country’s nuclear program, as his top defense and intelligence officials headed to Washington amid the flailing talks.
Israel has been watching with concern as world powers sit down with Iran to jump-start talks on the tattered nuclear deal. Iran last week struck its own hard line as talks resumed in Vienna, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated. Iran also isn’t slowing down the advances in its atomic program, further raising the stakes in the talks, which are crucial to cooling years of tensions boiling in the wider Mideast.
Talks in Vienna aimed at re-imposing curbs on Iran’s nuclear program restarted last week after a more than five-month hiatus.
Israel has long opposed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, saying it didn’t go far enough to halt the country’s nuclear program and doesn’t address Iran’s military involvement in countries bordering Israel.
“I call on every country negotiating with Iran in Vienna to take a strong line and make it clear to Iran that they cannot enrich uranium and negotiate at the same time,” Bennett told a meeting of his Cabinet. “Iran must begin to pay a price for its violations.”
Israel is not a party to the negotiations but it has made a point of keeping up lines of communication with its European and American allies during the talks, which are set to resume this week.
Israeli spy chief David Barnea headed to Washington late Saturday on a previously unannounced trip and Defense Minister Benny Gantz leaves Wednesday for meetings with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was in London and Paris last week to discuss the talks with Israel’s European allies.


Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths

Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths
Updated 05 December 2021

Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths

Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths

AMMAN: A Jordanian court on Sunday sentenced to three years in jail the director of a state hospital over the deaths of 10 patients at the facility which treated coronavirus patients.

Abdel Razak al-Khashman and four aides were convicted of "causing the deaths" at the Salt state hospital where the patients died after it ran out of oxygen.

The verdict can be appealed within 10 days. 

The deaths in March sparked public anger in Jordan and led to the resignation of health minister Nazir Obeidat.

Hundreds of angry people gathered outside Al-Hussein Salt New Hospital, northwest of Amman, when news of the deaths spread.

King Abdullah visited the hospital and protesters surrounded his car as it neared the building.  

(with AFP)


Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting
Updated 05 December 2021

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting
  • A widely circulated video shot by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker
  • Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s Justice Ministry said Sunday that two police officers were brought in for questioning following the shooting death of a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli man in east Jerusalem.
Israeli police released surveillance video in which the attacker can be seen Saturday stabbing the ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and then trying to stab a Border Police officer before being shot and falling to the ground. Police identified the attacker as a 25-year-old from Salfit, in the occupied West Bank. Police could later be seen carrying the body away on a stretcher.
A widely circulated video shot by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground, and another appeared to show police with guns drawn preventing medics from reaching him, prompting calls for an investigation into possible excessive use of force.
The shooting drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground.
The Justice Ministry’s police investigations unit said the police officers were questioned shortly after the incident and released without conditions.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement in support of the officers. Other leaders also defended their actions.
“It’s not clear if the terrorist maybe has an explosive belt. All sorts of things could happen,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, told Israeli Army Radio Sunday. “They acted correctly.”
The incident happened near Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, a tense and crowded area that is often the scene of demonstrations and clashes.
The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and Gaza. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, to include the West Bank and Gaza.
There have been dozens of attacks in recent years in and around the Old City, nearly all carried out by individual Palestinians with no known links to armed groups.
Palestinians and Israeli rights groups say security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat to security forces.
Rights groups also say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases witnesses are not summoned for questioning.
Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.
In the widely publicized 2016 case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two-thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.
His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.
In a more recent case, a Border Police officer was charged with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City last year.
The indictment came just over a year after the shooting of Eyad Hallaq, whose family has criticized Israel’s investigation into the killing and called for much tougher charges. The shooting has drawn comparisons to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.