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Second batch of Iraqis return after failed Europe gamble

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — A second batch of Iraqis returned home to northern Iraq on Friday after a failed quest to reach the European Union, citing maltreatment and abuse suffered in the hands of Belarusian authorities.

Over 170 people returned on a flight that landed in Irbil International Airport after 2 a.m. in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region. A disproportionate number of repatriated Iraqis from Belarus have been Iraqi Kurds. It is the second repatriation flight to return from Minsk. On Thursday 430 Iraqis returned home.

Another flight was expected to arrive at 7 a.m. Friday morning, according to a tweet by Lawk Ghafuri, spokesman for the semi-autonomous Kurdistan government. Word on that flight has yet to emerge.

All cited the cruelty of Belarusian border authorities — from beatings to threats — and attempts to push them to cross into neighboring European Union countries Poland and Lithuania.

“We are very thankful for arriving home, because the humanity and justice that people say about Europe is far from reality. It is not true at all. We have been beaten badly,” said Awat Nassir, a returnee at the airport.

“Now people are regretting they went there and demand to come back home, because it is 15 degrees below zero in Belarus now,” he said.

Thousands of migrants remain stranded between borders. Most are fleeing conflict or hopelessness in the Middle East and aim to reach Germany or other western European countries. But Poland has taken a hard line about letting them in, and Belarus didn’t want them returning to the capital of Minsk or otherwise settling in the country.

The West has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime. Belarus denies engineering the crisis, which has seen migrants entering the country since summer and then trying to cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

“The most difficult thing is when you see children stuck there,” said Emad Hussein, another returnee. “It is very hard.”

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