Doctor in Poland Goes on Iraq TV, Pleads for Kurds to Avoid Illegal Immigration Path to EU

A doctor who has been treating injured migrants from Iraq and Syria at a Polish hospital recently went on Kurdish TV to warn people in Iraq not to attempt an illegal immigration path to the European Union through the Belarus-Poland border, after treating migrants attempting the dangerous journey, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Arsalan Azzaddin, who is originally from Iraq, told the AP he was treating migrants from his homeland and Syria every day. Many of them suffered from hypothermia, pneumonia, broken bones and severe dehydration, he said.

"I want them not to come. They could die," Azzaddin told the Associated Press on Monday.

After some viewers accused Azzaddin of doing the Polish government's bidding to keep out migrants, he used his second appearance on Kurdish TV to allow his patients to describe their suffering firsthand. He also told Iraqi leaders: "Save those people," he said. "Kurds don't deserve something like this."

Azzaddin said he had been treating an average of two to five migrants in need of urgent treatment daily. One was a 38-year-old Syrian woman who had a miscarriage after she was in the forest for 22 days. She then caught COVID-19 after being taken to the hospital. Border Guard officers took the woman from the hospital on Monday and would not let AP journalists speak to her.

Days after Azzaddin went on TV, the Iraqi government began taking steps to stop the migration of Iraqis to Belarus. The government stopped flights to Belarus, closed offices that issued travel visas there and sent government planes to bring Iraqis in Belarus back home.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Dr. Arsalan Azzaddin, Poland, Iraq, Belarus, Migrants
Dr. Arsalan Azzaddin, a doctor originally from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, speaks to the Associated Press in Bielsk Podlaski, on Monday Nov. 22, 2021. Azzaddin has been treating Iraqi and Syrian migrants who have entered Poland from Belarus and gotten trapped in a dank forest, and often arrive with hypothermia, pneumonia, broken bones and severe dehydration. Hoping to stop what has grow into a very deadly migration route now being shut off, he asked a Kurdish TV station to let him go on the news to warn people back in his homeland not to attempt the illegal route into the European Union through Belarus and Poland. Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo

EU officials also mounted pressure on Iraq to halt the migration, but Azzaddin is convinced that his appeals on TV, which he said reached 2.5 million viewers, played a significant in stopping the migration.

With Poland's border increasingly sealed, it has gotten harder and harder for migrants at the border. Many are getting trapped in a dank forest of bogs that sees subfreezing temperatures at night. There have been reports of at least a dozen deaths along the border, and Azzaddin believes there are more on the Belarus side, based on his monitoring of social media posts.

With flights to Belarus from the Mideast coming to a halt, Azzaddin says he believes there are no more migrants in Poland's forest but there are still 2,000 people on the Belarusian side.

Azzaddin, originally from Irbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, but has lived in Poland for 40 years, supports the strict Polish approach to migration. He says if Poland were to allow in all the people that Belarus was shepherding to the EU's doorstep, the numbers would only grow and Lukashenko would prevail in his geopolitical standoff against the West.

The problem, he says, should be addressed at its roots. He sharply accuses Iraqi authorities of failing to create conditions where people can have dignified lives.

"You have to ask why people are coming," he said. "The leaders of many countries, of the United States and the European Union, must ask the Iraqi authorities why people are fleeing. These are educated people. They don't have work, they don't have anything to survive on."

He supports immigration, but wants to see it happen in a legal, controlled way.

"We must teach young people that the illegal way is not a good way. If you have an education, look for a job, do it legally," he said. "I am the medical director of this hospital. If 20 doctors wanted to work here, I could give them work tomorrow. But they must fulfill certain requirements. Coming here by risking the death of your family and children is not a good way."

The EU accuses the authoritarian leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, of orchestrating the migration in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Belarus over a presidential election in 2020 that was widely viewed as rigged and a harsh government crackdown on peaceful protesters.

Most of the migrants seek to reach Germany or elsewhere in Western Europe. But after 1 million refugees came to the EU in 2015, the bloc has sought to keep out any large new groups of asylum-seekers. The way it has done so, tacitly allowing the pushbacks of migrants and outsourcing migration control to Libya and Turkey, has prompted rights groups to accuse the EU of abetting human rights abuses.

Dr. Arsalan Azzaddin, Poland, Iraq, Belarus, Migrants
Polish Border Guard officers escort a Syrian woman from a hospital in Bielsk Podlaski, Poland, on Nov 22, 2021. The woman suffered a miscarriage after being trapped in a forest in Poland after crossing the border from Belarus, then she caught COVID-19 while being treated in a hospital. She is one of thousands of people who since this summer have tried to enter the European Union from Belarus in a new migration route opened by the Belarusian regime which Poland has sought to cut off, and which has become increasingly dangerous. Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo