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Turkey stops flights to Belarus as migrant numbers on EU borders rise

Turkey's flights to the Belarusian capital Minsk will be reduced to zero for a limited time after a deal with Turkish Airlines to stop the flow of Middle Eastern migrants to Belarus and to stop them trying to reach Poland

Turkey's flights to the Belarusian capital Minsk will be reduced to zero for a limited time after a deal with Turkish Airlines to stop the flow of Middle Eastern migrants to Belarus and to stop them trying to reach Poland, the European Commission said today. Turkey also banned Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi citizens from flights to Minsk, Reuters reports.

Thousands of irregular migrants have been stranded in freezing cold on the Belarus-Poland border for the fifth day amid the geopolitical standoff in eastern Europe.

Turkey's Civil Aviation General Directorate (SHGM) said today it would ban the sale of tickets on flights to Belarus to citizens from Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Belarusian state-owned airline Belavia said it would comply with the request.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas welcomed the Turkish move.

Poland accuses the Belarusian government, under President Alexander Lukashenko, of attempting to cause a confrontation by using migrants and refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere to cross into European Union (EU) states, as a way of taking revenge for Western sanctions.

READ: Blaming Turkey for refugee crisis amounts to 'ingratitude,' says Erdogan

Yesterday, Poland accused Turkey of cooperating with Russia and Belarus to enable the current migrant crisis. Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said: "We see that [Turkish actions] are fully synchronised with Belarus and Russia. It bothers us, we don't like it."

While Morawiecki expressed his view that Russia is the mastermind of the crisis and Belarus is the culprit, he addressed a question regarding Turkey's role. "A month or two ago, Turkey seemed to want to work closely with us. Our help in extinguishing the fire, our help in promoting the Turkish tourism industry, unfortunately turned out to be a one-way favour."

EU officials have primarily blamed the Russian national carrier, Aeroflot, for the transportation of the migrants, but they also reportedly blame Turkish Airlines for helping in that crisis due to the fact that it conducts flights from Istanbul to Minsk.

In a statement, Turkish Airlines insisted the accusations are baseless, while Turkey has denied playing a direct role by allowing its territory to be used to ferry in migrants.

The situation at the Poland/Belarus border - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The situation at the Poland/Belarus border – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

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