Story of Terlan
Behind every anonymous and dizzying statistic is a life.
Terlan, an Iraqi-Kurdish refugee, discloses his harrowing story of resilience from the front-lines of the border situation in Belarus. Terlan, his wife Jorin* and three of their children are among a group of up to 2000 refugees currently in the former Soviet satellite state. Their lives have been left in limbo as a result of Lukashenko's hybrid-warfare tactic; offering Belarus as a transit country in order to destabilise the EU.
Terlan sold his car to pay for Belarusian tourist visas, unaware that himself and his family would be victims in a potentially lethal political game. He recalled in an interview via WhatsApp that he was previously working in Security. “[I] was always working because life is hard [in Kurdistan]”. Despite the laborious nature of his job, he often didn't receive his salary.
Iraqi-Kurdistan has a population of approximately 5.8 million, 1.3 million of whom are employed by the government. Therefore, many families like Terlan's suffered greatly when the government slashed public sector pay by up to 21% in 2020. Subsequently, they failed to pay employees for several months because of a financial crisis catalysed by the pandemic, along with disputes within the federal government over budget allocations. Terlan stated that “most of the employees held demonstrations”, but were captured by authorities, leaving him and his family “afraid” for their safety.
The reasons for Terlan and his family seeking asylum are complex and multifaceted, but their paramount concern centres around their youngest son, who is 2 years old. He requires immediate medical attention for his Cerebral Palsy that leave him unable to “talk, walk or hold anything”. Terlan and Jorin fled in haste due to having “no time and no money”, therefore they had to leave their two eldest children in Kurdistan with relatives. Their two middle children often ask when they will be able to go to school, watch TV and play games again. Although such activities remain a luxury beyond reach, Terlan reassures his them a “better time in a safe place” lies ahead.
Terlan* lamented the perilous efforts they made trying to cross the border. His family have been figuratively kicked around like a football, at times walking up to 30km in harsh conditions. After flying to Minsk via Turkey, Terlan's family began to make their way to the EU border crossing. Belarusian police found them and brought the family to the tripoint between Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, misleading the family with the prospect of a humanitarian corridor. Setting foot onto Lithuanian soil, they were informed, with scant regard for suffering that “there is no place for you” and were shepherded back into Belarus.
In actuality, the forcible return of asylum seekers and refugees across an international border, while denying them their right to apply for asylum, is considered illegal under international refugee treaties and EU law. In spite of this, the family were pushed back on numerous occasions, from both Lithuania and Poland, leaving them “very sick” in the snow-blanketed forests of no-man's land. Hopes were repeatedly raised and then cruelly dashed.
Throughout all of this, their infant son was twice admitted to hospital. In a hospital near the Lithuania-Belarus border, a concerned doctor advised the authorities “don't bring them back [to the border]”, but the authorities didn't take heed of the professional advice and they were instead nefariously summoned out one night at 2am.
They are currently in temporary accommodation in Minsk and miss their loved ones in Kurdistan dearly. “No one leaves his country for nothing” Terlan grieved. “It’s very hard and believe me, I can't express my feelings enough”.
Terlan dreams of being accepted in a country as a refugee, for his son to be able to walk and to be finally reunited with his eldest two children. At present, there seemingly aren’t enough politically powerful and liberal voices willing to accept the refugees, however disturbing their plight. Stories such as Terlan's serve as a potent reminder to fix the asylum process, foster empathy and humanise refugees.
Written by Amber Johansen