Belarus migrants: What routes do they use to reach Minsk?

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Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Polish guards reinforcing the land border with Belarus

With several thousand migrants stranded along the border between Poland and Belarus, the EU has talked about blacklisting airlines it believes are active in trafficking migrants.

We've been looking at how migrants from outside Europe are getting to Belarus, and how the EU plans to respond.

Where are the migrants coming from?

Many of those arriving in Belarus and then attempting to reach the EU in recent months have come from the Middle East, as well as from Afghanistan, but there also smaller numbers from further afield including countries in Africa.

Data from the EU's border force, Frontex, for September (the latest that is available) shows the main countries of origin for migrants detected that month crossing the bloc's eastern land borders were:

  • Iraq
  • Syria
  • Afghanistan
  • Turkey
  • Iran

The numbers have been growing steadily since the summer, and these are just the crossings that are detected and reported to Frontex.

The Belarus capital, Minsk, does have regular flights from destinations across the Middle East, including Istanbul, Beirut, Dubai and Baghdad.

The state carrier Belavia has daily flights from Istanbul. Other national carriers operate regular flights to Minsk, such as Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot.

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, A Kurdish family from Iraq near the Poland-Belarus border

There are also a number of private airlines offering flights this week to Minsk from Baghdad and Dubai, according to FlightRadar24, which monitors airline traffic in real time.

A recent BBC investigation found that a network of travel firms and smugglers, often using social media, are able to organise flights and visas for Belarus as part of a package deal.

In addition, Belarus now allows visa-free travel for a stay of up to 30 days for citizens of 76 countries, although not for Iraq or Afghanistan.

There have been accusations that the Belarus authorities are facilitating these journeys in order to provoke a crisis along the EU's eastern borders, luring people in on tourist visas. Belarus has denied this is the case.

Poland has even accused Russia – along with Belarus – of trying to destabilise the EU by allowing migrants to travel through Belarus to the border.

What is the EU doing to prevent them coming?

The EU is talking about blacklisting airlines that are involved in bringing in migrants, as part of measures to stop the build-up along the borders with Poland and Lithuania.

EU Commission spokesman Peter Stano told us the EU was monitoring not just state airlines and private operators but also charter flights, which are sometimes arranged at the last minute.

There are no details as yet of what action might be taken, but the EU says it is already in talks with about a dozen countries over the issue.

These are countries – mainly in Africa and the Middle East – from where a significant number of migrants came, or from where there were flights operating to Belarus.

  • Poland blocks hundreds of migrants at Belarus border
  • EU accuses Belarus of migrant abuse

The EU also has a longer list of about 20 countries which it is monitoring, as it believes these could also potentially be used by migrants as a way to get to Belarus and then on into the EU.

This list includes Russia, from where there are regular daily flights to Belarus.

In August, the EU asked the Iraqi authorities to suspend all flights from Baghdad to Belarus, which Iraq agreed to for a limited period.

But a question in the European Parliament in August indicated that some flights had been continuing, with Iraqi Airways flights from Baghdad to Minsk nearly sold out.

Frontex data shows a sharp reduction in September in the number of Iraqis who were detected crossing the eastern land borders into the EU compared with August – from 1,345 down to 181.

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, The state airline Belavia is already under sanctions from the EU

But we don't as yet have figures for October to know if this trend continued.

And flights from Iraq to Minsk still take place run by private operators, such as a flight scheduled for Thursday this week from Baghdad.

The indications are that even if direct flights from Iraq to Belarus are now fewer, migrants find routes via neighbouring countries such as Turkey or Lebanon.

The Belarus state carrier, Belavia, is already banned from EU airspace under sanctions imposed after an incident earlier this year when a RyanAir flight to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk.

Discussions are now reported to be under way over whether to extend these to stop Belavia leasing aircraft from companies based in the EU, mainly Irish, Danish and Romanian leasing firms.

Ireland has indicated that while it supports further sanctions, there could be legal issues over existing leasing contracts to Belavia, which would have to be honoured.

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