Iraq repatriates thousands more citizens from Belarus

Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein discusses crisis with visiting Lithuanian counterpart

Iraqi migrants arrive at the airport in Erbil on November 26, 2021 after one of the earliest repatriation flights to Iraq from Belarus. AFP

Iraq recently repatriated about 4,000 would-be migrants from Belarus after their failed attempts to cross into the European Union, the foreign minister said on Sunday.

Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said those repatriated were stuck at the borders with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

More Iraqi migrants are still stranded at the borders and are not willing to go back, Mr Hussein said, during a joint press conference with his Lithuanian counterpart, Gabrielius Landsbergis.

He did not say how many are still there.

Iraqis are part of the migration crisis on the EU’s doorstep, with thousands of desperate migrants, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan, hoping to take advantage of a row between Belarus and the EU.

Mr Hussein said he discussed the migration issue with Mr Landsbergis and described the talks as “transparent and honest”.

The Lithuanian foreign minister repeated the EU claim that the Belarusian government had been luring migrants to enter EU.

The crisis “was created and engineered by the regime in Belarus to achieve its political goals”, he said.

He praised Iraq for its prompt co-operation by suspending direct flights to the Belarusian capital Minsk and operating free flights for Iraqis willing to return home.

Mr Landsbergis was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi and officials in Iraq's Kurdish region from where the bulk of the Iraqi migrants come.

The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus after a disputed election in 2020 in which Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected president. Minsk then eased restrictions at its border to allow migrants to enter Europe.

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

Under pressure from Brussels, Iraq suspended Minsk-bound flights in August. But migrants have been taking flights from other countries, including Turkey and Qatar.

Updated: January 16, 2022, 2:02 PM