Turkey halts flights for some Mideast citizens to Belarus amid refugee crisis

AP , Friday 12 Nov 2021

Turkey's Civil Aviation Authority said Friday that the country is halting airline ticket sales to Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni citizens wanting to travel to Belarus, which in recent months became a route for migrants and refugees to enter the European Union.

Migrants from the Middle East
Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere warm up at the fire gathering at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. AFP

EU leaders have put increasing pressure on airlines to stop bringing people from the Middle East to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, from where asylum-seekers seeking better lives can then travel by car to the EU's doorstep.

Thousands have managed to cross illegally into EU member nations Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since the summer, though many thousands have also been kept from entering or pushed back.

In a brief statement posted on Twitter, Turkey's aviation authority said its decision to halt ticket sales was valid until further notice.

Citing the Turkish decision, Belarusian airline Belavia said it also would not transport citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen on its Istanbul-Minsk flights starting Friday. Belavia said in a statement that it planned to reimburse the cost of already purchased tickets.

Polish authorities say a large number of people remain just across the border in neighboring Belarus and Polish border guards continue to rebuff attempts to enter Poland illegally.

European Union and Polish officials have accused the longtime leader of Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, of facilitating illegal border crossings in retaliation for sanctions the EU imposed on his government for its brutal crackdown on dissent following Lukashenko's disputed reelection last year.

A Polish official said the country's ongoing conflict with Belarus' government is not expected in the coming days. Pawel Soloch, the head of the National Security Bureau, said Poland was facing a ``a psychological, hybrid war, waged consciously by centers that want to weaken and ultimately strive to destroy our country.''

Poland's Border Guards said in the previous day they recorded 223 attempts to illegally cross the Polish border from Belarus, fewer than earlier in the week.

Poland's Defense Ministry said one group crossed the border at the village of Kuznica and were detained by soldiers, border guards and police. They posted a video which they said showed the incident.

The information was impossible to verify. Independent journalists face limits to their reporting in Belarus, and a state of emergency in Poland's border zone prevents media from entering the area.

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