Iraqis check in for flight home after failed attempts to get into EU
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Hundreds of Iraqis who have camped for weeks at Belarus’ borders with the EU checked in for a flight back to Iraq on Thursday, the Iraqi foreign ministry said.
The migrants, mostly Iraqi Kurds, were to board a flight in Minsk at 1:45 p.m. bound for Erbil in Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdistan region, and then on to Baghdad, the ministry said.
Iraqis, especially Kurds, make up a significant number of the estimated 4,000 migrants now waiting in freezing Belarusian forests and trying to cross into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
Many say Belarusian authorities have not allowed them to return to Minsk.
The EU is seeking to stop what it says is a policy by Belarus to push migrants towards its borders to avenge earlier sanctions over a crackdown on protests last year against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko’s contested re-election.
Lukashenko said Belarus was trying to persuade migrants to go home but that none of them wanted to return.
At least eight people have died at the border in recent months, including a 19-year-old Syrian man who drowned in a river trying to cross to the EU.
(Reporting by Charlotte Bruneau; additional reporting, writing by John Davison; Editing by Mike Collett-White)