Rebaz Rashid fled Iraq five years due to persecution and has found a home in Lithuania.
An Iraqi Kurd, Rashid came to Lithuania from Iraq five years ago. He lived in the Foreigners’ Registration Centre in Pabradė for half a year, and was then granted asylum.
“In 2016 in Iraq, our culture in our district was in danger. We didn’t feel safe. We wondered if we would have to fight or flee to another country,” Rashid said.
His mother told him to go to Europe, where “people have nice lives and no problems”.
“It didn’t matter to me which European country I would live in. All that mattered was safety,” said Rashid. He now owns two restaurants and also works as interpreter at the Foreigners’ Registration Centre. Although the Lithuanian language seemed impossible to learn at first, he now speaks the local language, as well Kurdish, Arabic, English, Turkish, and Russian.
There are local tourism agencies that help Iraqis escape the country, Rashid said.
“I went to three of them, asked about the routes, the cost. One company assured me that they could issue a visa to Russia, and then other people there would take care of a visa for Norway, Sweden or Germany,” he recalled. “They gave me a visa to Russia after two weeks.”
Rashid spent a week in Russia waiting for a visa to an EU country, but it didn't come.
“A man came after a week to tell me that I would have to wait longer.”
After two weeks in Russia, Rashid was told that there was “no safe way to enter Europe”.
“I was asked which country I’d like to go to. The country doesn’t matter, I said, the nicer their life is, the better it would be for me,” he said. “I was asked to pay 3,000 US dollars for the month I spent in Russia. I paid and never saw that man again. He just took the money and disappeared.”
Road to Lithuania
Rashid was told that the only safe route was to Lithuania.
“I hadn’t even heard of Lithuania until then,” he said. “I started looking into it. Apparently Lithuania was an EU country, people live nicely there, the euro is the currency. Okay, I said, I like this country.”
Rashid paid smugglers 1,600 US dollars to be taken to Lithuania. However, he did not receive a visa.
He was taken to the Belarusian border with another refugee from Syria at midday on August 20, 2016.
“A car was waiting for us at the Belarusian border, and then we left for the Lithuanian border at around 22:00. They brought us to a forest and left us there. We were told to wait.”
With just their passports and no way of contacting anyone, the refugees spent an hour in the forest before the car came back to pick them up.
“The driver returned and showed us on the map where to drive next. He said that we should take an unpaved road at a crossroad, and then we would reach Lithuania. Once we reached a town, we should wait for the police to come, and then tell them that I wanted to live here,” said Rashid.
The refugees reached the town by 05:00, and it was around 06:00 when Rashid and his companion asked the locals to call the police for them.
“They understood our request, and the police arrived in five minutes. The officers checked our documents and asked us if we had any problems. We said we did not,” Rashid recalled. “When they saw that we didn’t have visas, they took us to a police station. That’s how my life in Lithuania began.”