Belarusian airline stops flying Middle East citizens from Turkey

State-owned carrier Belavia bars Syrians, Yemenis and Iraqis from boarding flights at Ankara’s request as the migrant crisis grows.

Belavia, which is banned from flying over the European Union after Minsk's forced grounding of a plane earlier this year and subsequent arrest of a journalist on board, continues to fly to destinations including Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Belarusian state-owned airline Belavia has said it will stop allowing citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen to board flights from Turkey to Belarus at the request of Turkish authorities.

“In line with a decision by the … Turkish authorities, citizens of Iraq, Syria, Yemen will not be accepted for transportation on flights from Turkey to Belarus from 12.11.2021,” Belavia said on Friday, in a statement on its website.

The Turkish Civil Aviation Authority confirmed the statement, saying flight tickets to Minsk would not be sold to people from the three countries from Turkey.

The move came as the Belarus-Poland border crisis escalates, with thousands of migrants and refugees stranded near the frontier, hoping to enter the EU.

Poland and other EU member states have for months accused Belarus of encouraging people to try and cross the Polish border in revenge for Western sanctions imposed on Minsk, after the disputed August 2020 election that handed longtime President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term. Minsk denies those charges.

More people have been arriving this week, which has led to further Western allegations against Belarus.

Warsaw is further boosting security along the frontier, while the EU is weighing new sanctions on Lukashenko’s government and the airlines it says are involved in the “hybrid attack”.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it had reached a deal with Turkish airlines under which all outbound flights to Minsk from Turkey would be temporarily halted in order to stop migrants and refugees from reaching Belarus.

Turkey, which hosts four million mainly Syrian refugees, did not immediately confirm the agreement, but had earlier rejected any portrayal of Ankara and its flag carrier “as part of the problem”.

“Turkey … is not a party to this issue,” the foreign ministry said on Thursday.

UNSC meeting

Separately on Thursday, Western members of the United Nations Security Council condemned Minsk, as thousands are trapped in freezing conditions, without access to adequate supplies or medical care, along the Belarus-Poland border.

Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom raised concerns over the situation during a closed-door meeting of the 15-member body.

“We condemn the orchestrated instrumentalisation of human beings whose lives and wellbeing have been put in danger for political purposes by Belarus, with the objective of destabilising neighboring countries and the European Union’s external border and diverting attention away from its own increasing human rights violations,” they said in a statement.

The statement accused Lukashenko of becoming a threat to regional stability and called for a “strong international reaction” to hold Minsk accountable, pledging “to discuss further measures that we can take”.

But Russia, a longtime ally and creditor of Lukashenko, rejected the allegations and blamed Poland and Lithuania, which also shares a border with Belarus and has reported an increase in crossing attempts in recent days, for mistreating migrants and refugees.

“There are a lot of cases when Polish and Lithuanian border guards beat migrants and pushed them back to Belarusian territory,” said Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN.

“I would say that this is total shame and a total violation of any possible international conventions and rules.”

The Belarusian Ministry of Defence said on Thursday that in response to the Polish military build-up near the shared border, it would take “appropriate response measures” independently and together with Moscow.

Russia, which denies involvement in the crisis, dispatched two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace for the second day in a row on Thursday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies