The Kalos belong to the Yazidis, a religious minority that was brutalized by Islamic State militants when they overran northern Iraq in 2014, had a chance to flee Iraq for Belarus. They took advantage of that opportunity, but things did not pan out.
They reluctantly returned to Iraq after selling all they possessed, borrowing loans, using all their savings, and the wife selling her few belongings to help make the trip. But that was not enough. They family was left stranded for days in a cold forest on the border of Belarus and Poland. Fearing for the health of the wife’s ailing 80-year-old mother, they returned home.
“If it wasn’t for my children and my mother, I would never have returned, I would have stayed in that forest at all costs rather than return to this tent,” Kalo said Friday, speaking to The Associated Press from the Karbato camp in Dohuk province in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region. His mother, looking frail, slept throughout the interview.
“[This is] not even our tent; it’s his sister’s,” his wife interjected. “It’s no place to raise children, have a life.”
But the Kalos are not the only ones who have had their dreams shattered.
On Thursday, hundreds of Iraqis returned home from Belarus after abandoning their hopes of reaching the European Union. The repatriation came after thousands of migrants became stuck at the Poland-Belarus border amid rising tensions between the two countries.
Kalo’s family was among 430 people who flew from Minsk back to Iraq, where 390 got off at Irbil International Airport before the flight continued to Baghdad.
The West has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the EU in retaliation for its sanctions imposed on his authoritarian regime following a harsh crackdown on internal dissent. Of course, this accusation has been denied.
Kalo didn’t mind if a geopolitical game was being played at his expense if it got his family out of Iraq. He added: “If it was my last day on this Earth, I will spend it trying to leave.”