Belarusian migrant return plane lands in Iraq



An Iraqi repatriation flight departed Belarus and arrived in Iraq on Thursday to bring home migrants caught amid a dispute between the Belarusian leader and the European Union.

Iraq’s move is part of efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis on the Belarusian border that has stranded thousands of migrants, many from the Middle East, trying to reach the European Union through neighboring Poland, a member of the block.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said 430 Iraqis had signed up to return to the Boeing 747 operated by Iraqi Airways, the national airline, although it was unclear how many people were on the plane. This is a fraction of the thousands believed to be in Belarus, either at the border or in the capital, Minsk, after the Belarusian government facilitated the entry of migrants into the country and encouraged them to enter the country. ‘European Union – in retaliation, say EU leaders, for sanctions imposed by the bloc after disputed 2020 elections.

After departing from Minsk, the flight landed in Erbil in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region Thursday evening, according to flight tracking websites and media. There, 390 returning Iraqis descended, civil aviation spokesman Jihad Diwan said. The flight then left Erbil for Baghdad.

Many Iraqi migrants have said they have no plans to return to Iraq, and some have suggested that if they fail to enter the European Union, they may try to seek asylum in Belarus. , thus creating a potentially charged situation for the autocratic leader of the country. , Alexander G. Lukashenko.

Unlike past migration crises, the vast majority of these travelers arrived in Belarus by air, but the main air routes they used to reach Minsk from the Middle East have been narrowing for days, slowing the flow of migrants into the country. .

Lebanon’s civil aviation authority on Wednesday asked airlines to allow only Belarusian citizens and travelers with Belarusian visas or residence permits to board flights to the country. Last week, upset travel agents and travelers said Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis were no longer allowed to board flights to Minsk from Turkey, Iran or Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

The flight bans come after an intense diplomatic campaign by members of the European Union alarmed by the arrival of thousands of migrants, mostly Iraqis, in Belarus after relaxing its visa rules in August. Hoping to make their way to the European Union, the migrants instead found themselves in icy forest camps on the borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Belarus has denied fueling the crisis, and on Thursday Belarusian state-owned airline Belavia said it had stopped allowing citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen to board flights from Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, according to the state. heads the Belta News Agency.

Iraq and the European Union are considering offering incentives for migrants to return home, including cash payments. But many migrants have leveraged their savings or borrowed thousands of dollars to finance their trips, an amount likely to exceed any payments offered by governments.

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