With Palestinian refugees who returned to Lebanon after hell in Belarus: “We have the same problems as before, more debts”

By Laure Stephan

Posted today at 10:20 a.m., updated at 12:48 a.m.

Nothing went as Amer had imagined. Like thousands of unfortunate people in the Middle East, this Palestinian from Lebanon, father of four children, saw the stopover in Minsk as a safer route than crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe. The “intermediary” who had provided him with a visa and plane ticket at a golden price assured him: everything would be simple, there would be a smuggler on either side of the border between Belarus and Poland. “There weren’t many images of violence when I got on the plane”, says Amer, 47, who resides in Al-Jalil camp, at the entrance to Baalbek, in eastern Lebanon. It was in October. Left with two friends, this house painter turned back November 7: in Belarus, where the authorities created from scratch a migratory crisis intended to put pressure on the EU, he encountered nothing but scams and anguish.

It is in the small family accommodation, fitted out in a former barracks of the French army with decrepit staircases, that he delivers his story. Souzane, his wife, interrupts the preparation of lunch and storms. “I didn’t want Amer to come back like that, he should have waited, tried to cross the border, others have succeeded!” Now we have the same problems as before, and more debts! ” Amer, who has borrowed money to travel, does not flinch. Neighbors also criticized him. Others thought he was right to come back, in the face of danger.

Read our story: Article reserved for our subscribers Belarus orchestrates arrival of charter migrants to put pressure on Europe

In two weeks, Amer chained the setbacks. The trafficker he has contacted in Minsk is postponing plans and raising bids. He then leads them and his friends to a house near the border, where he locks them up, promising them an impending crossing of the forest bordering Poland. In the end, a man took them manu militari to Minsk. “We started to be afraid. “ Money is dwindling. At the border, the migrants are transformed into pawns by the Belarusian military, facing the Polish forces. Violence is increasing. Convinced that the passage is now impossible, not having enough dollars to secure a “good” ferryman, Amer opts for a return to Lebanon with his two companions in misfortune. Ultimate humiliation: they have to pay a fine at the airport, because of the expiry of their visa, before buying a Minsk-Istanbul-Beirut ticket.

A man watches his pigeons fly over the Al-Jalil camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, November 19, 2021.
Amer, a Palestinian, shows the stamps on his refugee travel document in the living room of his small apartment in Al-Jalil camp, at the entrance to Baalbek, eastern Lebanon, November 19, 2021.

The stage in Minsk, from which he intended to reach Italy, seek asylum there and then bring in his family, was his fourth attempt to reach the Old Continent. In the past he had tried via Turkey and Egypt. His obsession: to offer a ” good education “ to his children. The plight of Palestinian refugees is a golden windfall for traffickers. Descendants of the populations expelled at the creation of Israel in 1948, they are deprived of many rights in Lebanon and have been forgotten in the attempts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For many, the economic and financial crisis that has stunned the land of the Cedars is the sledgehammer too many.

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With Palestinian refugees who returned to Lebanon after hell in Belarus: “We have the same problems as before, more debts”