The Iraqi government is to repatriate its citizens stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland, as the migrant crisis continues under deteriorating and harsh conditions.
Over the past few months, migrants and refugees from countries such as Syria and Iraq have been mounting at Belarus's border with Poland and other nearby states. They were trafficked to Minsk by a consortium of smugglers and companies such as the sanctioned Syrian regime airline Cham Wings, only to be left in the capital and then transported by the authorities to its borders.
Since then, around 2,000 migrants and refugees have been held at the Belarusian-Polish border, where many are beaten, abused and, at times, forced to cross the border in harsh weather conditions.
The Polish border forces also refuse to take in the migrants, with Warsaw accusing Belarusian 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.
One of the biggest demographics amongst the stranded migrants are Iraqis, many of whom are Kurds, who will this week be offered a return home. According to the Iraqi foreign ministry's spokesman, Ahmed Al-Sahaf, on Sunday, "Iraq will carry out a first flight for those who wish to return voluntarily."
It was not made clear how many Iraqis would be able to board the flights from Minsk to Baghdad— starting on Thursday—but he revealed that 571 citizens had expressed their willingness to leave the border crisis and return home.
Over the course of the stand-off at the border, it has been reported that at least 10 migrants and refugees have died from the abuse and harsh conditions. That number, however, is estimated to be even higher.
Last month, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee went missing after Belarusian guards forced him to cross the river at the border with Poland. His body was later found, and he was buried yesterday at a town near the border.