Iraq to repatriate citizens who 'want to come home voluntarily' from Belarus

AFP , Friday 12 Nov 2021

Iraq said on Friday it was drawing up lists of those among the hundreds of Iraqis blocked on the border between Belarus and Poland who wish to be repatriated voluntarily.

Migrants  at the Belarus-Poland border
Migrants lineup to get humanitarian aid at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. AP

"We are ready to organise more than one trip to provide an urgent response to anyone wanting to come home voluntarily," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Sahaf said.

Hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers, many of them Kurds from Iraq, have been stuck for days on the Belarus-Poland border in near-freezing temperatures, with the World Health Organization saying on Friday it was "very concerned" about their plight.

Poland is refusing to allow them to cross, with the West accusing Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of bringing them into the country to send over the border in revenge for sanctions.

Iraq has sent diplomats from Moscow and Warsaw to the border to "check on (the migrants') safety and communicate with the relevant authorities," Sahaf said.

The Belarusian diplomatic missions in Baghdad and in the Kurdistan regional capital Arbil, which had been providing Iraqis with tourist visas, were "temporarily closed" last week, he added.

Iraqi Airways indefinitely suspended its service between Baghdad and Minsk in August, airline spokesman Hussein Jalil said.

"But we have received authorisation to operate one-way flights between Minsk and Baghdad for Iraqis blocked" in Belarus, he added.

In recent weeks, would-be migrants have been forced to fly through third countries, usually Turkey, to reach Belarus.

But on Friday, Turkey banned citizens of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen from flying from Turkish airports to Belarus because of the refugee crisis at the former Soviet country's border with Poland.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas is to travel to Baghdad Monday for talks on the crisis.

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