The European Union has threatened to slap sanctions on airlines accused of helping to fuel a dangerous migrant crisis developing on the border between Belarus and Poland. Several carriers, including Turkish Airlines, have vowed to clamp down on illegal migrant activity which is being facilitated by the Belarusian regime.
Migrants from word-torn countries across the Middle East have been streaming into Belarus in recent weeks, with thousands now stuck near a highly-militarized border between Belarus and Poland.
According to migrants interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Belarusian border guards have forced them to sleep in the open in brutal conditions in the full glare of the world’s media. Migrants have been blocked from returning to their home countries and stead repeatedly pushed by the Belarusian authorities to try to enter Poland.
The Polish border agency says there have been at least 5,000 attempts to breach the border so far this year.
The unfolding humanitarian crisis has emerged just months after Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko warned the EU that he would “flood” the bloc with “migrants and drugs”.
Belarus has been accused of “weaponising” migrants in an attempt to destabilise the European Union – a charge the regime denies.
The EU has taken a tougher stance against Lukashenko following the regime’s decision to ‘hijack’ a Ryanair plane in May in order to rendition a dissident journalist. In response, Lukashenko has also threatened to “turn off” Europe’s supply of gas from Russia but the immediate issue is the migrant crisis.
The EU fears Belarus has been allowing illegal migrants to board flights to Minsk where they are then bussed to the border with Poland. Airlines have been accused of not doing enough to clamp down on migrant activity.
“Nobody likes to see these things but as for transportation of people to Minsk, every passenger we transport has the right documentation, the right visa,” Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive of flydubai told Reuters at the Dubai Air Show earlier this week.
“We have never carried a passenger who was illegal” Al Ghaith. Flydubai increased capacity to Minsk several months ago but the airline said it didn’t know why flights were proving so popular.
Under pressure from the EU, however, the United Arab Emirates has reportedly barred Afghan, Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni citizens from boarding flights to Minsk.
Turkish Airlines has also agreed to suspend indefinitely one-way ticket sales to Middle Eastern migrants heading to the Belarusian capital. Iraqi Airlines said it would completely suspend flights to Minsk.
European officials say their response to the crisis is starting to bear fruit but human rights groups have called on the EU to take a more humane response to the crisis.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.