Iraq steps up in the Belarus crisis

A new Iraqi commitment to “migration governance” may lie behind its effort to end the trafficking and trauma of Iraqis used as pawns by a European dictator.

An Iraqi woman with children sits in Hajnowka, Poland, after crossing the border from Belarus Oct. 14.

Having experienced four wars over four decades, Iraqis know a thing or two about people fleeing woe and trouble. With its democracy now more firmly in place, Iraq joined a new United Nations program earlier this year that assists countries in dealing with all aspects of migration, from root causes to protecting migrants. And just in time. The tense crisis in Europe along the border with Belarus involves mostly Iraqi migrants.

Thousands of them were lured to Belarus earlier this year by strongman Alexander Lukashenko and then used as human weapons to cross into Poland and Lithuania in retaliation for European Union sanctions on his anti-democratic regime. By July, the EU asked Iraq to clamp down on human trafficking and, without too much prodding, the government went into action.

Flights carrying migrants from Baghdad to Minsk were canceled. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi set up a special team to discourage the migration. He called for urgent aid to the stranded Iraqis in Belarus and planned evacuation flights to bring the migrants home if they volunteer to return. (Few of the migrants are considered refugees.) The government is spending about $200 million for the effort. 

Mr. Kadhimi also promised a probe into criminal networks working with Belarus to bring in migrants. In addition, the crisis forced a renewed debate in Iraq about trying harder to reduce the poverty and political unrest that drove thousands of Iraqis to emigrate to Europe.

EU officials commended Iraq for its response and wished other countries with migrants in Belarus were doing the same. Last March, after Iraq joined the U.N. program to improve its “migration governance,” the U.N. designated it as a “champion” country for its commitment to dealing better with migrants. That sort of progress by Iraq might be a model, helping deter authoritarian leaders who try to use migrants as tools of geopolitics.

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