Iraqis flying home from Belarus as migrant camps cleared

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Nov. 18 (UPI) — Some 430 Iraqi citizens, a fraction of the thousands who have massed at the border of Poland and Belarus in recent months, were flying back to Iraq from Minsk aboard an Iraqi Airways jet Thursday.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the camps inhabited by migrants were being cleared by the Belarusian government.

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Those encampments at the border of Poland and Belarus have been the site of violent clashes between the migrants and Polish security forces this week amid a months-long crisis. On Wednesday, Belarus began moving the migrants to a warehouse from the freezing outdoors.

On Thursday, the Iraqi government began to repatriate citizens from Belarus who requested to leave, CNN reported.

Hundreds of migrants remained near the Bruzgi-Kuźnica border crossing, where a dozen Polish troops were injured Tuesday in clashes between security forces and some migrants. State-run media in Belarus said the Polish forces used water cannons to sprayed a yellow liquid at the refugees.

About 7,000 migrants remain in Belarus, the Washington Post reported.

The border has attracted thousands of migrants from the Middle East to the area since Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko over the summer encouraged them to cross the border into Poland and the European Union. NATO last week described the crisis as “artificially created by Belarus” and endangering people’s lives for political purposes.

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Polish and EU officials say Lukashenko intentionally stoked the crisis, encouraging the migrants to enter Poland to ratchet up pressure on the EU for economic sanctions leveled over various abuses by Minsk’s authoritarian regime.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki earlier this month described the situation as “a war in which civilians and the media are ammunition.” And Wedneday, he added: “We must have the strength, will and the ability to act effectively against the Belarusian regime — both on the side of Poland and the whole European Union.”

On Thursday, the G7 Foreign Ministers condemned the actions of Belarus.

“We call on the regime to cease immediately its aggressive and exploitative campaign in order to prevent further deaths and suffering,” the group said in a statement. “International organizations need to be provided with immediate and unhindered access to deliver humanitarian assistance. The actions of the Belarusian regime are an attempt to deflect attention from its ongoing disregard for international law, fundamental freedoms and human rights, including those of its own people.”

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