Iraq to issue temporary passports to its citizens stranded in Lithuania

Migrants, many from Iraq, are held at a camp in the Lithuanian village of Verebiejai, July 11, 2021. (Photo: AP)
Migrants, many from Iraq, are held at a camp in the Lithuanian village of Verebiejai, July 11, 2021. (Photo: AP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq's foreign ministry announced on Monday that it would issue temporary passports to Iraqi nationals now stranded on the border of Lithuania who wish to voluntarily return to their home country.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Ahmed al-Sahaf said in a press statement that it had sent a consular delegation to the European country to provide support and facilitate their travel back to Iraq. 

Al-Sahaf pointed out that the delegation began its work today, as it met with an investigation officer at a refugee camp for asylum seekers in the border region of Pabrade and also the advisor in the Lithuanian border guard's International Cooperation Department.

With Iraq's troubled and decades-long history of bloody conflict and mass displacement, the federal government has for years strongly opposed the forced repatriation of its citizens. For those who have declared that they would not be in danger if they returned home and chose to do so, like some now stranded on the Lithuanian border, Baghdad has often facilitated their travel back to Iraq.

Shahaf indicated that the two sides discussed the 275 Iraqis at the camp, including 14 families, as temporary passports were issued to a group of them who wish to be repatriated, with living conditions at the refugee camp being taken into account.

The UN has identified the number of stranded on the border between Belarus and Lithuania, with 3,000 individuals of 37 different nationalities, more than 1500 of whom are Iraqis.

Leaders of Estonia and Lithuania both asked Baghdad in early August to help stem the tide of the illegal smuggling of Iraqi immigrants into Europe through Belarus, which they accuse of intentionally stoking migrant crises in EU member states.

Iraqi has already suspended flights from Baghdad to Minsk and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed al-Sahaf said Monday that an Iraqi delegation had prepared paperwork to bring home Iraqis stranded in Belarus.

Read MoreIraq arranges flights from Belarus to evacuate stranded citizens

Videos of refugees that including Iraqis have been circulated as they tried to cross Belarus' border into the European Union have spread on social media in recent days, prompting Iraqi authorities to move to repatriate those who volunteered for it.

The EU had said that almost 2,800 Iraqis had crossed into Lithuania so far in 2021.

Editing by John J. Catherine