Iraqi Kurdish family lose everything to smugglers after failed migration attempt

Over the past few years, large numbers of Iraqi Kurds, escaping poverty and conflict, have paid smugglers thousands of dollars in an attempt to reach Europe, only to be voluntarily or forcibly returned when their asylum claims were refused.  

The Migrant Project spoke to Ahmed Hussein from Iraqi Kurdistan, one of the many Iraqi Kurds who have risked everything to get to Europe.

In January 2018, 26-year-old Ahmed decided to risk using a smuggler to migrate irregularly to Europe in order to give his child with cerebral palsy better access to healthcare.

“We sold everything, our possessions, our house and even our car. We gave all our money to the smuggler.”

Lured by false promises, Ahmed was told a smuggler would secure them a visa to access Europe’s free movement Schengen area. After an expensive three month wait, the smuggler informed them that a  Schengen visa was impossible – telling them instead they could reach Europe by purchasing a visa to the Ukraine. ”He was just stealing from us.” Ahmed said.

Introduced to a second smuggler, Ahmed and his family waited a further three months, only to be told that a Ukrainian visa was not possible and that perhaps their only hope was a Russian visa.

Following an agonising wait, the family were granted Russian visas. “We stayed in a town near Moscow for more than two months. After a lot of fake promises, the smuggler told us to get ready.”

Believing Europe within reach, Ahmed and his family boarded a bus with other migrants. “The Russian driver collected all our phones. After three hours we arrived in a forest.” Ahmed said.

The smuggler told them it was a brief walk to the Estonian-Russian border and that safety awaited them in Estonia’s migrant camps.

With no idea where they were or where they were going, they walked for more than four hours. “There were no border fences,” Ahmed remembers, “My father was very tired because he was holding my little brother on his back. It was so cold and we had nothing to eat.”

After an exhausting journey, Ahmed and his family finally reached the Estonian-Russian border checkpoint. But knowing they had been cheated and with their dreams of starting a new life in Europe shattered, Ahmed and his family voluntarily surrendered to the border patrol officials.

“We asked the Russian authorities to return us to Iraq. We feel like we’ve been sentenced twice.” Ahmed said with a sigh.

Ahmed’s family paid the smugglers more than USD 700,000 in their failed bid to reach Europe. With few prospects, they have no choice but to start all over again. Back in Iraqi Kurdistan, Ahmed and his family now live in a rented house while  Ahmed’s father has had to start working again to help his family.

TMP – 06/02/2019

Photo caption: Many migrants are losing thousands of dollars to smugglers to cross the border with Europe only to lose everything and return home.

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