SULAIMANI (ESTA) — As many as 425 more migrants stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland repatriated to the Kurdistan Region early on Saturday, authorities said.
“The flight was carried out via official channels and in consent of both Iraq and Belarus,” the Iraqi ministry of transport said in a statement.
Iraq sent more planes to Belarus to repatriate more than 800 migrants stuck on the border with Poland.
Hundreds of Iraqis and Kurds have been flown back since repatriation flights began on November 18 from the ex-Soviet state.
Thousands of migrants have been camped on the border there for weeks hoping to enter the European Union, often in bitter conditions – with those returning to Iraq showing injuries from the freezing cold.
Another flight on Friday brought around 600 Kurds and Iraqis, Iraq’s foreign ministry said.
The number of Kurds and Iraqis repatriated to the country reached 1,458.
Most of the thousands of Iraqis stranded on the border say they have spent their savings, sold valuables and even taken loans to escape economic hardship in Iraq and start a new life in the EU.
Kurds and Iraqis who fled seeking economic opportunity and in some cases political asylum began returning to their country a week ago having failed to get into the EU via Belarus.
The West accuses Belarus of bringing in would-be migrants – mostly from the Middle East – under the false pretense they would be to cross into EU members Poland and Lithuania.
Belarus has denied the claim and criticized the EU for not taking in the migrants.
Aid groups say at least 11 migrants have died on the two sides of the border since the crisis began in the summer, and have criticized the Polish government over its policy of pushing migrants back.
In a separate incident on Wednesday, 27 migrants died trying to cross the English Channel when their dinghy deflated, an echo of the 2015 migrant crisis when thousands of people fleeing war in the Middle East drowned on boats bound for Europe.
Iraq is no longer at war since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017, but a lack of opportunities and basic services, as well as a political system most Iraqis including Kurds say is corrupt and nepotistic, mean ordinary people see little chance of a decent life at home.
*This story was updated at 11:06 a.m. EBL time