Iraqi migrants suffering from border tensions in Belarus fly home

MOSCOW – Hundreds of Iraqis flew home from Belarus on Thursday, giving up hope of reaching the European Union after more than a week of tension at the bloc’s eastern border, where thousands of migrants are stranded.

Meanwhile, Belarusian state media reported that no more migrants were left in makeshift camps near the Polish border after authorities opened a heated warehouse for them. shelter from the cold. This cannot be verified immediately.

Since November 8, about 2,000 people, mostly from the Middle East, have been stranded at the border crossing, trapped in a flooded forest as the two countries’ forces confront each other. At least 12 people have died in the area in recent weeks, including a 1-year-old child reported on Thursday by a Polish humanitarian organization.

Most are fleeing conflict or hopelessness at home and are aiming for Germany or other Western European countries. But Poland does not want them in, and Belarus does not want them to return to Minsk or settle in the country.

The West accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of luring migrants to the border to use them as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for sanctions imposed on his dictatorship. Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis, which has seen migrants enter the country since the summer and then attempt to cross to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

According to Iraq’s consul in Russia, Majid al-Kilani, amid the tension, a total of 430 Iraqis have signed up for flights home. And 374 boarded a departing plane on Thursday afternoon, Lukashenko spokeswoman Natalya Eismont said. The flight was scheduled to make two stops – one in the city of Erbil and the other in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Others have moved to a nearby warehouse, which Belarusian authorities set up on Tuesday, providing mattresses, water, hot meals and medical assistance.

State agency Belta reported on Thursday, leaving no one at the border camps.

But overall, Eismont, a spokesman for Lukashenko, said a total of about 7,000 migrants remained in the country.

In the latest spate of words, the European Union’s High Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Ylva Johansson, accused Belarus of engaging in “a state-sponsored act of migrant smuggling” and said the Sanctions and the cessation of flights to Minsk carrying migrants are “our work an effective tool in this struggle.”

The foreign ministers of the G7 group of top industrialized countries also condemned “the Belarusian regime’s orchestration of irregular migration across its borders” in a statement on Thursday.

Eismont says the fact that hundreds of people have left Belarus shows that the government is holding a piece of the bargain. The rest of them “unequivocally refuse to fly, but we’ll work on it,” she said.

Earlier this week, according to Eismont, Lukashenko suggested to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the EU could open a “humanitarian corridor” that would allow 2,000 migrants to reach Germany, while the Belarusian authorities would work to convince 5,000 others return to their homeland. .

In response to a request for comment, Chancellor Merkel’s office referred to Tuesday’s statement about her phone call with Lukashenko, in which she stressed the need for humanitarian assistance and return home. safety of migrants.

Poland has taken a hardline stance against illegal entry of migrants, fortifying its border with riot police and the army and planning to build a tall steel fence. Poland’s approach has been largely endorsed by other EU states that want to stem the tide of migration.

But Poland has also been criticized by human rights groups and others for pushing migrants back to Belarus and not allowing them to apply for asylum.

In recent days, a melee has erupted at the border, with migrants hurling stones at Polish forces en masse by their razor wire fence, injuring 12, and the army responded with water cannon and tear gas. Warsaw accused Belarusian forces of instigating the conflict, while authorities in Minsk denounced Poland’s “violent acts”.

Lukashenko has denied orchestrating the crisis and said his government deported about 5,000 illegal migrants from Belarus this fall.

In May, however, he protested EU sanctions imposed on his country for its harsh crackdown on internal dissent, saying: “We have stopped migrants. and drugs – now you’ll catch them and eat them for yourself.”


Karmanau reports from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.


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