Saturday

4th Feb 2023

Turkish Airlines risks EU ban over Poland border crisis

  • Turkish Airlines flying twice a day to Minsk, airport data showed (Photo: Eric Johnston)
Listen to article

Turkish Airlines and FlyDubai could be banned in the EU for flying migrants to Belarus after an attack on the Polish border blew up into an international incident.

"The EU will ... explore how to sanction, including through blacklisting, third-country airlines that are active in human trafficking," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday (8 November) after people tried to storm the Polish border earlier in the day.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Migrants on Polish border on Monday (Photo: Telegram)

Two top EU officials, Josep Borrell and Margaritis Schinas, will also travel to countries such as Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates to press them to stop people flying to Minsk, von der Leyen added.

Belarusian airline Belavia, which is already banned in the EU, is doing most of the "trafficking".

But Minsk airport data showed on Tuesday that Turkey's national flag-carrier, Turkish Airlines, which is popular with EU tourists, was still flying migrants from Istanbul to Minsk twice a day despite the border crisis.

FlyDubai, an Emirati budget airline, and Syria's Cham Wings were also flying people in.

Von der Leyen issued her threat after several hundred mostly Kurdish people tried to break through a razor-wire fence near the 'Kuźnica' crossing-point on the Belarus-Polish border.

Aerial video footage posted online showed them being forced to do it by armed Belarusian officers, some of them with attack dogs, and some of whom reportedly fired shots in the air behind the crowd, which included children.

Polish guards repelled the would-be asylum-seekers using water cannons and pepper spray.

The migrants then set up a tent camp on the Belarusian side of the fence, while Polish soldiers and armoured vehicles stood by.

But Polish authorities warned further attacks were likely and that there were some 4,000 migrants in the 400-km long border zone.

They also warned the situation risked turning lethal.

"We expect there could be an escalation of ... an armed nature any time soon on the Polish border," Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller said.

"The last thing we want to do is use armed force," he said.

"The Polish border is not just a line on a map. The border is sacred - Polish blood has been spilled for it", Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki also said.

Monday's incident came after Belarus shuffled thousands of migrants to the Polish, Latvian, and Lithuanian border in small groups in recent months in revenge for EU sanctions.

Eight people already died of exposure, with EU officials urging Poland to show compassion.

"It's important that people concerned are given the necessary care," a commission spokesperson said.

Nato on alert

The emergency quickly blew up into an international incident, with Poland briefing the French, UK, US, Irish, and Estonian ambassadors at the UN Security Council in New York the same day.

Poland's EU envoy is to hold crisis talks with the 26 other EU ambassadors in Brussels on Tuesday.

Nato, which has a treaty obligation to defend Polish territory and which has a multinational battalion in Poland, described Belarus' actions as "a hybrid tactic".

"The [Nato] secretary general remains in close touch with allied governments on the issue. Nato stands ready to ... maintain safety and security in the region", it told EUobserver.

"The EU needs to create a common front," German interior minister Horst Seehofer told German newspaper Bild, which described events as an "attack on the EU" by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

Poland was defending the EU border and Belarus was guilty of "inhuman cruelty", Dutch foreign minister Ben Knapen told parliament.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania also called for EU sanctions.

For its part, the Russian foreign ministry backed Lukashenko.

"More than 2,000 Polish soldiers invaded [Iraq] ... to establish democracy. Why not accept as many grateful Iraqis today?," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, referring to Poland's role in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Germany to blame?

But if the Polish government wanted EU solidarity, it also showed its eurosceptic colours on Monday.

Polish state broadcaster TVP gave prime-time coverage to French anti-EU politician Marine Le Pen, who called for French intervention against "migrant aggression", and a Spanish far-right MEP, Hermann Tertsch, who blamed the crisis on Germany's welcoming attitude to migrants.

Warsaw is home to the EU's 'Frontex' border-control agency, but a Polish government MP, Maciej Wąsik, belittled its capabilities.

"Frontex is 1,300 officials. Polish border guards have 16,000 functionaries, helped by 10,000 Polish soldiers," Wąsik said.

Meanwhile, Poland had been a leading opponent of EU relief on migrants for Greece and Italy in recent years.

"We urgently need a common EU migration policy," Belgian liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt said.

Poland doubles troop numbers on Belarus border

Poland doubled the number of troops to 6,000 on its Belarus border, amid an ongoing standoff with stranded migrants - at least seven of whom have died as temperatures start to plummet.

EU Commission: laws allowing Belarus pushbacks need changes

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have introduced national laws, under states of emergency, allowing authorities to turn back people into Belarus. The European Commission is set to ask for some of those rules to be amended.

Too early to 'de-escalate' Belarus crisis, says EU official

EU senior officials say Belarus needs to do much more than move migrants and asylum seekers into a shelter. They want UN aid agencies to have unhindered access to people stranded in Belarus. Poland is still refusing any humanitarian aid.

Opinion

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us