Iraq to bring back hundreds of citizens stranded on EU's doorstep

About 571 Iraqis are stuck in eight camps on the Belarus-Poland border

Iraq's government will repatriate hundreds of its citizens stranded in Belarus amid an escalating migrant crisis on the EU's doorstep.

An Iraqi diplomatic delegation in the Belarusian capital of Minsk has so far received requests from more than 240 Iraqis to return, the ministry spokesman Ahmed Al Sahaf told state-run TV.

About 571 Iraqis stranded in eight camps on the Belarus-Poland have been registered, he said.

The exact number of Iraqis stuck in Minsk or at the border is not known.

“They are facing harsh weather conditions and suffering from the lack of food and other supplies,” Mr Al Sahaf said. “The majority of them are elderly, women and children.”

The Iraqi ambassador to Russia told state-run RIA news that the first repatriation flight from Belarus to Iraq was planned for Thursday.

Earlier this year, Minsk eased restrictions at its border to allow migrants to enter Europe.

The move came amid a row with the EU following sanctions imposed after last year's disputed elections in which President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory.

Thousands of desperate migrants, mainly from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, have travelled to Belarus, fleeing chaos and conflict in their homeland and seeking a new life in Europe.

The EU has accused Belarus of orchestrating these movements of migrants in retaliation for the sanctions, an accusation Minsk has denied.

Under pressure from Brussels, Iraq has suspended Minsk-bound flights since August and more than 500 Iraqis have been repatriated. But migrants have been taking flights from other nations including Turkey and Qatar.

On Tuesday, Polish riot police used teargas and water cannon at migrants who threw rocks and tried to cross the border.

Footage shared by Polish authorities showed more than a dozen men firing projectiles near the border crossing at the north-eastern Polish town of Kuznica.

Updated: November 17th 2021, 11:09 AM