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Flight ban imposed as pressure builds on Belarus over migrants


Turkey on Friday barred people from several Middle Eastern countries from flying to Belarus, as pressure mounts on Minsk to end a migrant crisis on its border with EU member Poland.

The Turkish Civil Aviation Authority said citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen would not be allowed on flights from Turkey to Belarus because of “the problem of illegal border crossings between the European Union and Belarus”.

Belarusian state airline Belavia said it was complying with the order.

Hundreds of migrants, mainly Kurds, have been stuck for days on the Belarusian-Polish border in near-freezing temperatures, with aid groups warning of a looming humanitarian catastrophe.

Amid reports this week of more flights from Turkey and the Middle East carrying migrants to Minsk, Western countries are demanding Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko and his main ally Russia take steps to end the crisis.

After an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council on Thursday, the US and European delegations condemned “the orchestrated instrumentalisation of human beings whose lives and well-being have been put in danger for political purposes by Belarus”.

Minsk and Moscow have accused EU countries of failing to live up to international standards by blocking the migrants, who they say are seeking shelter after Western military “adventures” in the Middle East.

The EU is instead considering new sanctions on Lukashenko, who is already isolated and under sanctions for a severe crackdown on opponents after a disputed presidential election last year.

He suggested Minsk could cut off the transit of Russian natural gas through Belarus to Europe, which relies on Russia for a third of its gas supplies.

“The reliability of Russia as a supplier under current and future contracts is beyond question,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Migrants have been trying to cross the border for months but the crisis came to a head when hundreds made a concerted effort on Monday and were pushed back by Polish border guards.

They set up a camp on the border where some 2,000 people are sheltering in tents and burning wood from local forests to keep warm, blocked by Polish guards behind razor-wire. 

Aid teams from the United Nations and Red Cross visited the camp on Thursday and delivered basic supplies, but they warned that the migrants are in no condition to stay in the area for long.

Thousands of migrants have crossed or attempted to cross from Belarus into the eastern EU states of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland since the summer.

A Polish charity working on the border said Friday that three migrants from Iraq and Syria were beaten and robbed on the outskirts of a town near the border, with one ending up in hospital and the thieves taking $7,500.

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