On Friday 12 November, authorities in Turkey stopped all flights from Turkey to Belarus for citizens of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The flights will not continue until further notice. Turkey’s Civil Aviation Authority stated that the flight bans are due to illegal migrant crossings from Belarus into the EU. Flights by Syrian, Yemeni, and Iraqi citizens to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, have also been banned.
The UN Security Council accused Belarus of using the migrants to destabilize the EU’s eastern border. However, Belarus’ leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has stated that he will cut off all gas supplies to Europe if any new sanctions are imposed by the EU. Russia, Belarus’ main ally, has also rejected the claims made by the EU.
The EU has also accused Belarus of flying in migrants to create a humanitarian crisis on its frontier. Lukashenko has denied this accusation, stating that Belarus would have no choice but to respond if the EU imposed the fifth series of sanctions. The EU has stated that Lukashenko is giving out Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying the migrants in, and instructing them to try to cross the border illegally.
Last year, some Belarusian citizens protested on the streets in retaliation to Lukashenko’s widely disputed election victory. Lukashenko demonstrated a violent crackdown on protesters and the EU has since said that Belarus’ leader has begun to lure migrants in response to the EU sanctions imposed over the brutal attack on protesters.
Thousands of people arriving from the Middle East, many of them Kurds, are reportedly camping at the border with Poland, facing cold temperatures. The migrants are mostly young men hoping to cross into the EU. Iraq has stated that it is organizing repatriation flights so that Iraqi nationals can return from Belarus. The EU has also accused the Russian state airline, Aeroflot, of transporting migrants to Belarus. Aeroflot has denied this: however, the EU is reportedly considering sanctions.
The migrants have attempted to cut through barbed wire fencing to enter Poland this week. However, they were met with push-back from Polish border guards and the armed forces. Some migrants managed to get through but many were unsuccessful. In the past few weeks, temperatures have dropped and seven people have died from hypothermia.
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has met with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, for the second time to discuss the migrant crisis. Putin has urged the EU to rebuild contacts with Belarus so that the crisis can be resolved.
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