PM Barzani, French minister discuss migrant situation in phone call

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and a top French official discussed the situation of migrants, including Kurds, stranded in Belarus in a phone call on Sunday, describing the humanitarian crisis as an "organized smuggling operation” attempting to advance a political dispute.

Speaking of the situation of migrants, Barzani and France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the crisis as "an organized smuggling operation to advance a political dispute,” read a statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Monday.

PM Barzani emphasized the KRG’s continued readiness to organize flights for the voluntary return of the migrants, it added.

Thousands of people, many of them Iraqi Kurds but also citizens of Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, have traveled to Belarus in recent months with the hope of reaching western Europe where they dream of better lives with more opportunities. However, most have gotten stuck on Belarus’ borders with Poland and Lithuania, who have fortified their frontiers against the migrants in response.

The dire condition of thousands of people, young and old in the cold with little food and water, has grabbed international headlines and mobilized Europe to cut off the migration route. Earlier this month Belarus cleared a makeshift border encampment, sending over a thousand migrants to a nearby logistics centre, according to AFP.

The Iraqi government and the KRG have begun registering the names of those who want to voluntarily return home. Over 400 people returned on Thursday, 95 percent of whom were from the Kurdistan Region.

Erbil and Baghdad have suspended the work of Belarusian diplomatic missions in the country and flights to Minsk. Both governments have also arrested several smugglers.

Drian commended the measures taken by both governments to "disrupt the criminal networks,” according to the KRG statement. The minister also thanked Barzani for his prompt interventions with officials in Baghdad and European states.

Barzani and Drian "agreed to have a technical team from Paris visit the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad to explore additional measures."

The premier has been in talks with international figures to discuss the situation of migrants. On Thursday, he received a phone call from his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki in which they discussed the condition of Kurds on the Belarus-Poland border.

German official Miguel Berger on Saturday told Barzani that Germany is "grateful” for the KRG’s recent reparation measures.

Many of the Kurdish migrants are young, leaving the country in search of jobs and opportunities they feel they cannot access at home where unemployment is high and political tensions and instability leave them with little hope for their future.

KRG officials have acknowledged the financial hardships, but say that they are working to resolve the problem, including creating over 100,000 jobs in the last two years.



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