An Iraqi Airways 747-400 transported over 400 Iraqis away from the contentious border between Poland and Belarus and back to Iraq, with officials hoping to ease tensions in an escalating spat between the European Union and Belarus.
Iraqi Airways 747 Brings Migrants From EU Border In Belarus Back to Iraq
If I can greatly simplify the last year, I would do so like this:
- August 2020 – Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus since 1994 and known as “Europe’s last dictator” is re-elected by a landslide in an election opponents and outside observes called rigged.
- Autumn 2020 – Protests occur on a weekly basis, but are squashed by government forces; the opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya faces exile.
- May 2021 – A Ryanair flight bound for Vilnius, Lithuania is diverted to Minsk, Belarus due to a phony bomb threat onboard. KGB (secret police) board the flight and arrest opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
- Summer 2021 – The European Union, United States, and other nations respond with sanctions against Belarus, including freezing bank accounts and blacklisting Belarusian flag-carrier Belavia..
- Autumn 2021 – In retaliation, Belarus turns a blind eyes toward incoming migrants from the Middle East attempting to enter and claim refugee status in the European Union. Tens of thousands of immigrants line up on the Polish – Belarus border with plans to enter the European Union via Poland; Belarus assists in that endeavor, leading a further diplomatic crisis and threats of further sanctions
Sensing it was losing the diplomatic war and the sanctions would sting even harder, Belarus agreed to start limiting the number of refugees over its border and stop assisting them cross. Other airlines, like Turkish Airlines, refused to board passengers with Iraqi or Syrian passports on flights to Minsk.
But what to do about the thousands of Iraqis and Syrians already at the Polish border?
Enter Iraqi Airways.
Performing its first humanitarian mission since its repatriation flights in the early days of COVID-19, the Iraqi flag carrier dispatched a Boeing 747-400 for Belarus and returned to Iraq yesterday with 431 Iraqis onboard, stopping first in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan before continuing on to Baghdad. Most passengers alighted in Erbil. The flight operated as IA272 using a 747 with registration YI-AQQ.
But thousands remain at the border and President Lukashenko told the BBC:
“We’re Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany. Maybe someone helped them. I won’t even look into this.
“I told them [the EU] I’m not going to detain migrants on the border, hold them at the border, and if they keep coming from now on I still won’t stop them, because they’re not coming to my country, they’re going to yours.”
Iraqi Airways has not indicated if it will continue to transport Iraqi migrants back to Iraq.
In an olive branch to Poland the European Union, Iraqi Airways has brought over 400 Iraqis back to Iraq on a packed 747-400. However thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, and other migrants remain perched at the Belarus – Polish border waiting for an opportunity to slip into Poland. The border crisis continues.
image: Tsung TsenTsan