Bahasht, a 13-year-old Kurdish girl, has been living in a Belarusian camp near the Polish border for two months – and hopes for help. t-online spoke with her to get an up-close look at her life in the camp. (Source: t-online)
"It feels very sad": 13-year-old Bahasht shows in the video the terrible conditions in her Belarusian camp- and finds clear words. (Source: t-online)
For months, people have been living in a no-man’s land between Belarus and the EU. A 13-year-old girl from Iraq becomes the hope of refugees here. In the process, she has experienced terrible things herself.
Bahasht is actually always in a good mood. "Everyone says I smile so much", tells the 13-year-old girl. This is not necessarily natural when living in tents, under cardboard boxes and tarps in a refrigerated high bay warehouse and the future is completely uncertain. Bahasht Koshnaw belongs to the group of refugees who camped in the forest of Belarus in front of the EU external border.
They have almost disappeared from public view. With freezing temperatures and snow, Bahasht and the others no longer live in the forest, they have been moved to a tall concrete building a few hundred meters from the border.
Refugee crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border
Photo series with 21 pictures
But they are still there, and the girl wants to show it. She has guided t-online with the cell phone camera through the accommodation: This is how the refugees from the forest live now: There is a water tank outside, on which thick layers of ice have formed; the porta-potties are also outside. You can see the video here or in the text above.
She speaks German and English very well
About 900 people are housed here and hope to be allowed into the EU. Most want to get to Germany. Bahasht, the 13-year-old with the open laugh, works on it, fights for it and thus loads a lot on her shoulders.
What sets Bahasht apart from most of the people in the camp is that not only is she not shy, she also speaks German and English very well. So on some days, she is in demand dozens of times as an interpreter, accompanies people to the doctor. She is constantly addressed "and I have to help the people".
Bahasht Khoshnaw: 13-year-old Kurdish girl won’t let her confidence that she can return to Germany be taken. (Source: private)
She seems to be the mouthpiece to the world outside the concrete walls and the fireplace in front of the hall. Electricity to charge the cell phone battery Belarusian officials grant in the hall in return for cleaning.
The 13-year-old’s cell phone is often charged. She has sent calls for help, along with videos, to Facebook pages of parties. The administrator of the "Pro SPD" Took her seriously and forwarded it to journalists. And the girl can now tell how it came about that she is waiting in Belarus to be allowed to go to Germany. And if she has to, she will wait a very long time. "We cannot go back."
She speaks English so well in addition to German because she picked it up watching YouTube videos in Iraq, Bahasht reports. She had previously had some teaching at the Eppsteinschule in Hanau, a Haupt- and Realschule. But there she had to say goodbye in tears at the end of 2019.
"She was already a very strong girl back then"
After about three years, she returned to her parents’ homeland, which was no longer hers: Erbil, in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Svenja Ladwig, a special education teacher at Bahasht’s school at the time, thinks back on it: "I was still trying to find out if there were any ways to prevent this. But it all happened so fast."
Ladwig learned from t-online where Bahasht is now. "It is known that refugees often have to live in very difficult circumstances. But it touches you differently again when you know someone then."
Bahasht’s performance was no surprise to the teacher. "She was already a very strong, clever girl with us, and I thought she was capable of a lot." Confident, not at a loss for words. "She really adapted very quickly." The girl had also learned German so quickly that she soon transferred to the regular class and became one of the best there.
But Bahasht’s family left and there was no turning back. Bahasht, her parents, her German-born brother and her two other siblings were tolerated in Germany "subsidiary protection" had the family. It is given to people who are not recognized as asylum seekers, but who are threatened with serious harm in their country of origin. But if they travel longer to the home country, the status is usually revoked. The state assumes: the threat cannot be that great.
Left demands evacuation
If the family were to make it back to Germany, they would have to file a follow-up application, the content of which would then be reviewed. Clara Bunger, spokeswoman on refugee policy for the Left Party in the Bundestag, explains. Together with other politicians from her party, she had just been to Poland on the other side of the border to find out about the situation. A phone call with Bahasht is planned.
And Bahasht has questions. She has also read on the Internet that the Left Party in Saxony-Anhalt has proposed an admission of the people from the Polish-Belarusian border area. Bahasht is looking for straws to grasp at.
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Bunger calls for evacuation of people who now still held out at the border in inhumane conditions. "Those seeking protection in the logistics center in Belarus are mostly people who cannot be returned to their country of origin."
To her country of origin, which was no longer her homeland, Bahasht had to return in 2019. She did not want to. "I was angry too. But there was also no way for my father to travel back alone."
His mother, her grandmother, was dying, he wanted to visit her at all costs – with the family. And that in the knowledge that it could be a journey of no return to Germany. Teacher Ladwig remembers: "It breaks your heart when you know you’re now releasing a child into the unknown. I knew it would be very difficult for her."
Suddenly headscarf instead of belly free
Bahasht was still sending messages to the class for some time. The girl, who had put on makeup with friends in Hanau and wore a bare belly, wrote about having to wear a headscarf. "Headscarves and long black dresses", she tells t-online. "If you only say ‘belly free’, you can already catch one."
She had arrived in a different world with different rules. There is still blood revenge, her father had to fear death because of that, she says. In March 2020, first a member of Bahashts family was murdered, she sent t-online a Kurdish TV report about it. The families involved would then have negotiated financial reparations for a long time.
There was no agreement, there was a bloody continuation. "One of my father’s uncles took revenge and killed three members of the other family. Terrible."
Again there had been talks of the family elders, how this could be settled. There was even a possibility that she would be married to an old man from the other family. "My grandpa wouldn’t go along with that", says Bahasht. Because there is no agreement, now the men in their family again in the greatest danger, he said. "My father would be next."
Hidden for blood
Her father then hid with them in changing places, she says. This is information that t-online could not verify. In a new trial in Germany they would play an important role. During the constant flight, all old numbers were lost as well.
When the news reached the family that Belarus was granting visas, it seemed to the family as a way out. "We had previously also considered fleeing via Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea." Her father had ruled it out. "He did not want to flee from a possible death and then we die in the sea."
On 7. November they landed in Minsk, wanted to head for the Polish border. You were asked to get on a bus. The bus dropped them off at the Lithuanian border, Bahasht reports. "We then walked for nine days until we reached the camp."
With their tent, in which it is always somehow wet, and four sleeping bags for the six people, they lived for weeks in the forest in the largest gathering of refugees, not far from the Polish town of Kuznica. Pictures of the people at the European barbed wire fence have gone around the world from there.
Poland builds a fence for 366 million euros
Bunger demands that "protection seekers also have access to a fair procedure and humane accommodation at the EU’s external border". Poland, meanwhile, last week began construction of a 5.50-meter-high fence on the border; the 186-kilometer-long structure is expected to cost 366 million euros. The EU is becoming even more isolated. The pressure of the people is still there, says Poland’s border guard.
"People need to be helped quickly", says left-wing politician Bunger. "Germany should trade here with other EU member states. For the sake of the people, it would be even better if the federal government would act immediately on its own to end this misery quickly."
Poland’s border guard reports that there are no longer hundreds of people trying to cross the border illegally night after night. But dozens of encounters continue, says Major Katarzyna Zdanowicz, spokeswoman for the Polish Border Guard. "Recently, people have also been led into terrain that is very difficult to access and pushed across the border there."
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Bahasht can also tell of experiences with soldiers. They had been driven into the wire coils at the border. She, her sister, her three-year-old brother – they all bled, Bahasht reports. They did not make it to Poland.
And so they wait in the high-bay warehouse, day after day. And Bahasht has no perspective, but keeps her laughter. "If I think all the time that there is no future, it is useless. I must have hope."