Thursday

26th May 2022

EU summons Belarus envoy in 'weaponising' migrants row

  • The airport in Minsk (Photo: El Bingle)

The EU summoned Belarus's envoy to Brussels, amid unconfirmed reports Iraqi Airways may temporarily suspend flights to Minsk.

The European Commission on Thursday (5 August) said it had told the envoy that the regime led by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko must stop using migrants as a political tool.

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  • Of the three flights scheduled to arrive from Baghdad on Friday, one is cancelled (Photo: EUobserver)

"These practices must stop and Belarus must respect its international commitments in combating irregular migration and human trafficking and migrant smuggling," EU commission spokesperson told reporters.

Over 4,000 migrant hopefuls, mainly from Iraq, have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus since the start of the year. That compares with just around 80 in 2020.

Direct flights from Turkey and Iraq to Minsk are causing headaches for EU and Lithuanian officials as migrant hopefuls continue to arrive in Belarus.

Lithuania says it has indirect evidence Belarus border police are in fact helping migrants enter its territory.

It says video footage captured by the EU's border agency Frontex shows migrants being driven in the same model of vehicles used by officials of the Belarusian State Border Committee.

The European Commission says it is piling on pressure on Iraq to prevent the departures amid reports Baghdad may temporarily suspend Iraqi Airways flights to Belarus.

Unable to confirm whether the flights would indeed be suspended, the commission nevertheless welcomed the reported decision.

"We welcome the reports on the decision about these flights, or the cancellation of these flights," said a commission spokesperson.

She also noted talks had taken place with Iraq's minister of foreign affairs on 27 July.

The Minsk National Airport website on Friday indicated three arrival flights from Baghdad, one cancelled at time of writing.

Poland on Thursday said Belarus is also now sending migrants over its border, after Warsaw granted refuge to Belarusian Olympic athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya.

Fearing for her safety, Tsimanouskaya refused to return to Belarus from the Tokyo Olympics after being described as a traitor on state television following a dispute with her coaches.

Poland's deputy interior minister, Maciej Wasik has since accused Minsk of waging a hybrid war with the European Union.

"There are both young men and women with children. Belarus is using these immigrants as a living weapon," he told online broadcaster Telewizja wPolsce.

Telegram groups lure migrant hopefuls to Lithuania

Telegram messaging boards are providing false hopes for young migrants seeking to enter Lithuania through Belarus. A handful seen by EUobserver include links to travel agencies, costs, and routes. Most will likely ended up being detained in Lithuania.

Belarus using migrants to counter-attack EU

Lithuania has become a new "eastern front-line" for irregular migration, after Belarus began "weaponising" people in its clash with the EU, Lithuania's foreign ministry has said.

Germany and Netherlands halt returns of Afghans

Last week, six EU countries, including Germany, and the Netherlands, said forced returns must continue despite violence in Afghanistan. Now they have changed their mind. Belgian Greens are also criticising the decision.

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