Iraq is set to begin voluntary repatriations of its citizens from Belarus on Thursday amid the current humanitarian crisis near the border between Poland and Belarus.
Baghdad has appealed for Iraqi citizens to fly home, telling them the way into the European Union is closed. But it’s unclear how many will take the offer and return to the Middle Eastern nation.
The EU border agency Frontex is working with the Polish and Iraqi authorities on arranging charter flights from Poland.
What conditions are migrants facing near the border?
Thousands of migrants are currently stranded near the frontier between the two countries waiting to go into the European Union.
Most of them are from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. They’re fleeing conflict or despair at home and want to reach Germany or other Western European nations for a better life.
But with Poland blocking their entry and EU leaders attempting to cut routes of travel, they have been stuck at the border and are facing dire conditions, with limited food, water and medical supplies and plummeting temperatures at night.
Warsaw has deployed thousands of troops to the border and plans to erect a obstacle along the border.
And as winter approaches, halting conditions will only make life more difficult for the migrants.
Aid groups say at the minimum 11 migrants have died since the crisis began in the summer.
Despite the harsh conditions, many migrants have vowed not to go back to their home countries.
Poland determined to prevent migrant arrival
Poland, meanwhile, appears determined not to let the migrants in. Empowered by Polish law and with the help of infrared cameras, border guards continue to return groups of migrants attempting to make their way into the country.
On Tuesday, a melee broke out with migrants throwing stones at Polish forces massed on their side of the razor-wire fence, injuring 12, and they responded with water cannons and tear gas.
Warsaw accused Belarusian forces of instigating the conflict, while the government in Minsk denounced Poland’s “violent actions.”
A day after the melee, Belarusian authorities moved hundreds of migrants who were camped in the cold to a nearby warehouse.
Several airlines have said they are trying to stop would-be migrants from traveling to Belarus in the first place.
On Thursday, Belarusian state airline Belavia said it had stopped allowing citizens from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen to board flights from Uzbekistan’s Tashkent to Minsk.
‘Road to Belarus is a dead end’
The West has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating the crisis and using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the European Union in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime.
Germany’s apparent chancellor-in-waiting Olaf Scholz recently called Lukashenko a “bad dictator” who was using desperate people in a “shameful game” to cause pressure on the 27-nation bloc.
Belarus, however, denies the accusations. Minsk is backed by Russia, which said that Lukashenko is not behind the crisis at the border.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken with Lukashenko twice this week and stressed that migrants should be given the chance to return to their home countries with the help of the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.
Steve Alter, a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, denied Berlin was planning to bring the migrants to Germany. The “road to Belarus is a dead end for most people who want to go to Germany. There are no plans to approve taking people in,” he said.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said it was important to ensure humanitarian agencies gain long-lasting access, already if it meant talking to Lukashenko, whose legitimacy is questioned by the West following a disputed 2020 reelection.
G7 foreign ministers released a joint statement Thursday that read in part, “We call on the regime to cease immediatelz tits aggressive and exploitative campaign.”
sri/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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