Sunday

24th Jun 2018

From Fallujah to Brussels: a perilous route

  • Luhaibi (l) says police in Germany handcuffed him and threatened to beat him (Photo: EUobserver)

Twenty-nine-year-old Saad Luhaibi left the Iraqi city of Fallujah just over five months ago. A bomb incinerated his car. His brother is dead.

On Friday (4 September), the father of five stood in a park outside a government office in Brussels with his two fellow asylum seekers, also from Iraq. They arrived a day earlier.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • A scar left by a gunshot wound (Photo: EUobserver)

Fallujah, a large city in Iraq's western Anbar province, has been under siege for the past year as Islamic State (IS) fighters push their forces ever closer. Many fighters are stationed in Nassaf, a village only two kilometers south of the city.

But dangers also lurk elsewhere. Last month, Iraqi government forces were accused of shelling a nearby hospital for women and children.

At breaking point, Luhaibi fled to Izmir, a city on Turkey’s Aegean coast.

From there he moved on to Samos, a Greek island, and then travelled up through the Western Balkans, into Hungary before crossing Austria, Germany and then finally reached Belgium.

Along the way he met 44-year-old Ali Wali and 34-year-old Khalid Walid Ali. Both came from Baghdad and both have left families behind.

“We are scared that we will be sent back [to Iraq]”, said Ali Wali.

Wali, a butcher by trade, pulls up his shirt and exposes a long scar across his stomach. He had left Iraq in 2006 for Syria. A soldier loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime put a bullet in him.

Walid Ali points to scars around his legs and feet. “Three bullets.”

Their trip to Belgium has been long and arduous. In Serbia, gangs robbed them. In Germany, police pulled them off a train after they refused to get fingerprinted.

“They said that if we didn't give our fingerprints, we would be beaten”, said Luhaibi.

He said that police handcuffed him, put him in a cell, and forcibly took his fingerprints before releasing him.

All three men believe that Belgium will rapidly process their asylum claims. It is their destination of choice, they say, because Belgium’s policy of family reunification is more flexible than other EU member states.

The Belgian cap

But Belgium’s minister for asylum and migration, Theo Francken, has his own ideas.

This week Francken capped the number of asylum seekers that can be processed per day at 250.

This means that the makeshift asylum camp of some 300 people, located in front of Belgium’s foreign office is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

The agency in charge of processing applications was already running a backlog of some 2,000 files at the end of July: the same month saw 3,000 people apply for asylum. Most came from Iraq, followed by Syria, then Afghanistan.

Island of Kos ‘not alone’

Greek islands have become a staging point for many migrants seeking protection in the EU.

More than 160,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece this year.

Of those, some 31,000 landed on the Aegean island of Kos where on Friday, European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans and migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, pledged their support.

“Kos is at the forefront but Kos cannot be left alone with the challenge”, said Timmermans.

Amnesty International said on Thursday it had witnessed an assault on refugees on Kos by a mob of 25 people with bats.

“The hellish conditions the refugees are now forced to endure and the official indifference to their plight is appalling”, said Kondylia Gogou, Greece Researcher at Amnesty International.

Police also fired stun grenades on Friday morning to disperse crowds of asylum seekers hoping to board a ferry in Lesbos to Piraeus.

The Commission, for its part, said it wants to give Greece access to some €450 million in funds but is unable to do so because authorities have yet to designate a responsible managing authority.

Avramopoulos said €33 million of that total is ready now.

The EU is also setting up a zone in Piraeus where new arrivals will be quarantined, fingerprinted, and identified. Those with no chance of asylum will be repatriated.

The EU’s border agency, Frontex, will help run ID checks and is honing its skills to accelerate the process.

“Last Monday, we were able to register 500 migrants within one day and yesterday we were able to increase this to approximately 800 migrants within one day”, said Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri.

Opinion

Fate of EU refugee deal hangs in the balance

Europe's choice is between unplanned, reactive, fragmented, ineffective migration policy and planned, regulated, documented movements of people, writes International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband.

Opinion

EU summit: migrants get a 'vote' too

Non-citizens from Nigeria to Afghanistan get a binding 'vote' on whatever the EU's internal debates submit to them. They will vote with their feet on whether to keep trying their luck when faced with a new system.

News in Brief

  1. Venice Commission: Hungary should repeal NGO law
  2. Trump threatens to slap 20 percent tariff on EU cars
  3. EU closes deficit procedure against France
  4. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  5. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  6. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  7. EU adopts posted workers directive
  8. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. Migration row at centre of EU summit This Week
  2. Merkel's woes cast shadow on EU's future
  3. Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China
  4. Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco
  5. Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'
  6. How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund
  7. Commission defends Africa migrant plan ahead of summit
  8. Bavaria hijacks EU migration talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us