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Photo of a Belavia aircraft
Belarus national carrier Belavia announced that it would not be transporting travelers from Iraq, Syria and Iraq from TurkeyImage: Wolfgang Minich/picture alliance

Turkey bars some Mideast nationals from flying to Belarus

November 12, 2021

Turkey has banned nationals from Iraq, Syria and Yemen from traveling to Belarus. It comes amid EU pressure over migrants stranded at Belarus' border with Poland.


Turkey's Civil Aviation Authority (SHGM) announced on Friday that travelers from Iraq, Syria and Yemen would not be allowed to purchase tickets or board flights from Turkish airports destined for Minsk.

The decision comes amid increasing tensions between the European Union and Belarus as migrants, mostly from the Middle East, arrive at the Belarusian border with EU member state Poland.

The SHGM said on Twitter that the decision was made in response to the "illegal border crossings between the European Union and Belarus." 

Belarusian national carrier says will comply

Belavia airline, the national carrier of Belarus, has followed Turkey's directive and announced on its website that as of Friday, it would not be transporting nationals of Iraq, Syria and Yemen from Turkey.

In a notice posted for travelers online, the airline stated: "Attention to nationals of Iraq, Syria and Yemen flying from Turkey. In accordance with the decision of the competent authorities of Turkey, citizens of Iraq, Syria, Yemen will not be accepted for transportation on flights from Turkey to Belarus" starting November 12.

The airline went on to say that passengers impacted by the measure would be able to claim a refund of their purchased tickets.

Refugees used as political weapon

Iraqi Airlines suspended its service between Baghdad and Minsk in August but had now been authorized to operate one-way flights from Minsk to Baghdad in response to those who found themselves stuck at the border, according to the airline's spokesperson.

Meanwhile Iraq's foreign ministry on Friday said it was compiling a list of hundreds of its citizens currently at the border. Foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Sahaf said: "We are ready to organize more than one trip to provide an urgent repsonse to anyone wanting to come home voluntarily."

What has been the response to Turkey's move?

"Thank you to the Turkish authorities and SHGM for your support and cooperation," said Charles Michel, the European Council president.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas also said he welcomed the move by Turkish authorities. 

A German Foreign Ministry spokesperson said talks initiated by the EU with airlines and transit nations about migrants at the Belarusian border with the bloc are starting to bring results.

"The talks are ongoing and today some indications show that we already have some success," the spokesperson said. 

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a German lawmaker from the business-friendly Free Democratic Party's (FDP), told DW he was pleased with Turkey's response. 

"It is certainly a most welcome step in a way, on a path that we all have to travel together to address this terrible situation," the German lawmaker said.

Lambsdorff also made it clear that taking in migrants was not an option. "The ultimate solution lies elsewhere, because these people cannot be allowed into the European Union, they have no legal grounds whatsoever to come to Europe, and therefore the solution needs to be found elsewhere, perhaps inside Belarus, perhaps in third countries, perhaps in the countries of origin."

According to German police on average more than 100 migrants reached the country after traveling through Poland from Belarus, each day. Since the start of November authorities have logged a total of 1,488 unauthorized entries.

A political standoff 

Poland has said that thousands of people, predominantly from Middle Eastern countries, have been trying to make their way toward EU countries from Belarus. 

Meanwhile, Belarus has denied the Polish accusations, labeling them as "unfounded and unsubstantiated," and claimed Warsaw was deliberately escalating tensions.

The EU has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as a political tool as a retaliatory measure for sanctions, and threatened fresh santions in response. 

The bloc's executive, the European Commission, has also said that it was preparing sanctions against the airlines that were carrying migrants to Belarus.

On Wednesday, Germany called for further sanctions targeting Lukashenko's regime. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Lukashenko was "unscrupulously exploiting" the migrants and sending them to the border region.

What is the situation on the Poland-Belarus border?

Migrants who are trying to cross into Poland are trapped in limbo in freezing weather. Their movements are being closely monitored by Polish authorities using infrared cameras to identify heat signatures of people attempting to make it over the border.

Poland has declared a state of emergency on the border, making the area difficult for journalists and aid workers to access.

Local media reported that late on Thursday, two groups of migrants had been stopped from crossing.

There have been concerns among some neighboring states that the situation regarding migrants could escalate into a military confrontation.

Warsaw is also looking to bolster its armed forces with an ambitious defense scheme revealed last month that could see troop numbers on the border more than doubled. 

Belarus said on Friday that together with its key ally, Russia, they were holding joint military drills near the border with Poland.

Poland's leadership cited "Russia's imperial ambitions" and the migrant situation on its eastern border with Belarus as top security challenges. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday it was "very concerned" about the health situation of the migrants stranded in Belarus.

We urge "all states to protect the right to health of refugees and migrants along the Belarusian border, many of whom need medical assistance," said WHO Europe director Hans Kluge.

kb/fb (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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