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Iraqis to leave Belarus after failing to reach EU

Iraqis to leave Belarus after failing to reach EU
Several hundred Iraqis stuck on the frontier between Belarus and Poland have opted to fly back home after almost two weeks of living in a no man’s land between the two countries and failing to gain entry to the EU.

The flight, scheduled for Thursday by Iraqi diplomats, will see around 300 migrants return to Iraq, after giving up waiting for their asylum claims to be accepted. The option to “voluntarily” return was announced by Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf on Sunday, who noted that 571 citizens had  expressed willingness to be repatriated.

Video published on social media shows Iraqis queueing to check in for the FlyBaghdad flight, which will first stop in Erbil before carrying on to the Iraqi capital. It is not known who is funding the journey, and it will be free of charge for those taking the trip.

Many of the Iraqis came to Minsk via third countries, after direct air links were suspended in August. The majority came through Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and Egypt.

On November 8, thousands of migrants from the Middle East marched with their belongings through Belarus to the country’s frontier with Poland, hoping to enter the EU and claim asylum. Upon reaching the border, Polish border guards refused to let them enter the country. In the ten days since, the would-be refugees have set up a camp in the border territory, periodically trying to break through the barricades.

READ MORE: Poland warns EU migrant crisis could last for years

The migrant crisis began in summer and into autumn, after  Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his government would no longer help the EU stop illegal immigration. He stands accused by Brussels of “weaponizing” migrants by flying them into his country and transporting them to the border, allegedly as part of a “hybrid war” against the West.

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