Iraqis undeterred by death of migrants
Baghdad - Iraqis were incensed by TV footage showing the corpses of six countrymen who fled war’s miseries, taking a perilous trip to arrive safely in Europe only to die and have their organs pillaged. Their bodies were found in a locked refrigerated trailer in Austria.
The images, however, weren’t graphic enough to deter other Iraqis from planning the trip, braving rough seas on rickety fishing boats off Turkey’s Black Sea to Bulgaria. The refugees cross forests to Romania on foot, followed by a van ride to Hungary, then on to Austria, escorted by smugglers.
“With the ongoing war and violence, we have no chance to live an ordinary life in Iraq,” said physician Ahmed Mustafa, in his mid-20s in an interview last week. “According to the international human rights charter, we’re entitled for some normalcy, to live an ordinary life, to achieve our dreams and aspirations.”
“Here, we can’t do that,” grumbled the physician, who said he plans to make the same trip to Germany.
“No matter what, I’m going to Europe to start a new life there,” he said.
The bodies of the six Iraqis were found August 27th in a trailer left in an open lot in Burgenland, an Austrian state bordering Hungary. They are believed to be among 30 Iraqis reported missing by their families in Iraq, who say they lost contact with them last summer.
Austrian police announced that 71 bodies of refugees were found in the trailer and that they needed time to verify identities through DNA tests and other means. Austrian media reported that the victims were Iraqi and Syrian migrants and included women and children.
The initial investigation indicated that smugglers sold the refugees to mafias trading in human organs, Austrian authorities said. It was not immediately clear if the abductors killed them or left them to suffocate in the refrigerated trailer. The bodies of six Iraqis were returned to Iraq on October 10th in sealed caskets.
Journalist Omer Hilali said his deceased friend Mohammed Ihsan, 25, “left Iraq to Europe just one day after he got engaged”.
“Now, his body is back but not complete because some of his organs had been plundered,” Hilali said. He spoke after Ihsan’s coffin reached the family residence in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq.
Hilali said Ihsan “escaped the dystopia in Iraq, yet he was sold by human traffickers to the dealers of the human organs on the day he arrived in Europe by sea from Turkey”.
Ali Ihsan, a cousin of the deceased, said European mafias after human organs escorted his cousin to an isolated house between Austria and Hungary, where he was drugged, his organs robbed and his body disposed of along with the others found in the trailer. He cited Iraqi police accounts as the source of his information.
Days before his death, Mohammed Ihsan telephoned his cousin, urging him not to follow as both had planned. “’This is the road to death. Do not come,’ he told me,” Ali Ihsan said.
“He, however, insisted in the call that ‘I’d rather die than return home.’”
Several thousand Iraqi and Syrian migrants reached Germany, which has been a popular destination for the refugees who see its leader, Angela Merkel, as compassionate for adopting a policy that allowed them into the country.
The route through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary ends in Austria, where some continue by train to Germany.
The journey is publicised on social media. On Facebook, there are groups specialising in providing assistance to refugees by tipping them on the route, difficulties along the way, unfriendly neighbourhoods they should avoid and people they can contact in case of emergency.
The groups are primarily Iraqi and Syrian volunteers who made it to Germany, Austria and elsewhere in Europe.
Separately another five caskets from Austria arrived in Baghdad. They belonged to Iraqis identified as Ali Ismael, a 25-year-old engineer, his sisters Zaineb and Zina, a brother-in-law and a friend.
Ismael’s mother and female relatives waved goodbye as the coffins were driven to a cemetery.
The mother, who identified herself as Um Ali, said human traffickers were luring Arab youngsters to Europe “promising to help transport them between countries in return for $2,000”.
“Our young men are being tricked and they will face the same destiny as my son,” she said.
Ismael’s younger brother, who declined to be identified, said the family lost contact with him a day before the bodies were found in Austria. “A month later, somebody called us from overseas saying my brother and two sisters were found dead,” he said.
Mustafa, the young Iraqi physician who plans to escape to Germany, said he connected with smugglers in Europe on the internet.
“They promised to help me get through but advised me to wait until the spring because the trip in the sea is dangerous with high waves, wind and rain during wintertime,” he said.
“My mind is set on this plan,” he insisted. “What is there to lose? Death is after us no matter where we are — in Iraq or if we ventured out.”