The European Union has lifted sanctions from a Syrian airline, after blacklisting it last year over the migrant crisis on the borders of Belarus.
According to representatives for the EU and the airline today, the bloc removed Cham Wings – a private Syrian airline with ties to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad – from its sanctions list, after the airline was accused in December of trafficking migrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq to Belarus.
Those migrants were then held by Belarusian forces at the country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania, where they were beaten, abused and prevented from crossing before being forced to attempt crossings. That situation involving thousands of migrants grew into a crisis, which resulted in diplomatic and political disputes between Minsk and its EU neighbours, until the bulk of the stranded migrants – many of whom were Iraqi – were repatriated.
According to a statement by an EU spokesperson, Brussel’s decision to remove Cham Wings from its sanctions list was reportedly signed on Monday by the bloc’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borell. The delisting was made “as it considered that the restrictive measures brought the desired effect with regards to this entity. According to information presented to the Council, Cham Wings ceased its involvement in the activities for which it was listed”.
The airline’s business development and Public Relations Director, Osama Satea, told the Reuters news agency today that it condemned the EU’s initial blacklisting and that the reversal was “a glimmer of hope”. Satea claimed that the company was “entirely innocent”, and stated that “This will allow us to request permission to operate in some airports. It’ll be better and easier after our name was struck off the list”.
Currently, Cham Wings operates flights to a few destinations in the Middle East, and any potential flights to Europe will not immediately take place, Satea said.
The airline continues to be blacklisted by the United States, due to its affiliation with the Assad regime and its suppression of the Syrian population and brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors in 2011, which ignited the ongoing civil war in the country.
The EU’s lifting of sanctions from the Assad-affiliated airline company appears to signal a trend of countries increasingly making moves to normalise their ties with the Syrian regime over the past few years. So far, only Middle Eastern, Balkan and eastern European States have re-established open diplomatic relations with Damascus, with the EU, as a whole, continuing to uphold sanctions against the regime for now.