Turkey bans Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis from flying to Belarus

ANKARA / WARSAW, November 12 (Reuters) – Turkey banned Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi nationals from flying to Minsk on Friday, potentially closing one of the routes used by migrants that the EU says has been flown in by Belarus to make a conscious humanitarian effort. crisis at its border.

Thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, seek refuge in freezing conditions in the forests on the borders between Belarus and the EU states of Poland and Lithuania, which refuse to let them cross. Some are already dead, and there are fears for the safety of the rest as the bitter winter conditions settle in.

The European Union accuses Belarus of creating the crisis as part of a “hybrid attack” on the bloc – the issuance of Belarusian visas in the Middle East, the influx of migrants and the encouragement to try to cross the border illegally. Brussels may impose new sanctions on Belarus and airlines, which it blames for transporting migrants as early as Monday.

Belarus denies that it produced the crisis, but has also said it can not help resolve it unless Europe lifts previous sanctions imposed by the EU to punish President Alexander Lukashenko for violently suppressing mass protests against his regime in 2020.

Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, threatened this week to cut off Russian gas supplies to Europe through pipelines across Belarus. On Friday, it appeared that the Kremlin distanced itself from this threat, saying that it had not been heard prior to Lukashenko’s remarks and that it would fulfill its gas supply contracts.

European officials have repeatedly said that their best hope for resolving the crisis at the border is to stop potential migrants in the Middle East from boarding flights to Belarus in the first place.

Turkey has refused to play a direct role by allowing its territory to be used to ferry immigrants. But the Minsk airport website listed six flights arriving from Istanbul on Friday, most from any city outside the former Soviet Union.

Turkey’s Directorate – General for Civil Aviation (SHGM) said on Friday it would ban the sale of airline tickets to Belarus to citizens of Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Belarussian state-owned airline Belavia said it would comply with the request.

Polish police guard the border between Poland and Belarus near Kuznica, Poland, in this photograph published by the police on November 12, 2021. Policja Podlaska / Handout via REUTERS

“In relation to the illegal border crossing problem between the EU and Belarus, it has been decided that citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen wishing to travel to Belarus from our country’s airports should not be sold tickets and not allowed on board aircraft.” said SHGM on Twitter.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas welcomed the Turkish move.

EU foreign ministers could approve several Belarusian sanctions on Monday, which could include individuals and businesses, according to a diplomat.

The bloc’s executive commission said airlines bringing in migrants would be on the list, and two diplomats said Belarus’s main airport was also being considered.

Polish authorities stopped two groups of migrants from crossing the border from Belarus late Thursday, the private television station TVN24 quoted local police as saying, marking a relatively calmer day in a week of tense confrontations.

The Polish border guard said on Friday on Twitter that there had been 223 attempts to illegally cross the border on Thursday.

Two incidents in the evening involved larger groups – one near Kuznica Bialostocka, where the Belarusian army tried to push about 35 people, mostly women and children, to the Polish side, and another including a group of about 100 migrants near Polowce, the local said. police. .

The Polish border guard said the number of migrants along the border between the two countries had risen to around 3,000-4,000.

Presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will meet on Monday in Vilnius to discuss the crisis and will be joined by a video link of Polish President Andrzej Duda, the Lithuanian president’s office said on Friday.

Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Dmitry Antonov and Andrew Osborn in Moscow. Written by Jan Lopatka Edited by Peter Graff

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