Baghdad has repatriated almost 4,000 of its citizens stuck on the Belarus borders with European Union members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in recent weeks, Iraq’s foreign minister said Sunday (16 January).
Since 18 November, the Iraqi government has organised “10 flights from Baghdad to Belarus” to repatriate its citizens, Fuad Hussein told a press conference in Baghdad with his Lithuanian counterpart.
“We have been able to repatriate around 4,000 Iraqis who were stuck on the Belarus borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia,” he said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf later told AFP that “3,817 Iraqi migrants have been repatriated from Belarus and 112 from Lithuania”.
The flights have generally arrived in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, where many of the would-be migrants are from, before continuing to Baghdad.
Sahaf said some Iraqis were still stuck in Belarus, but that “the difficult weather and complex environment do not allow rescuers to determine their numbers”.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, who also met with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, said he wanted “to bring in new cooperation ideas” with Iraq.
Since last summer, thousands of migrants, many from the Middle East and Iraq in particular, had been camped on the Belarus-EU border, often in bitter conditions, trying to enter the bloc.
The West has accused Belarus of luring the migrants to the border as revenge for sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
Belarus has denied the claim and criticised the EU for not taking in the migrants. Poland sealed its border and did not allow even the Warsaw-based Frontex EU border guard agency to access the area.