Iraq repatriates 370 would-be migrants from Belarus border with Lithuania

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Iraq has repatriated 370 of its nationals from the Belarus border with Lithuania, a government source said Wednesday, after accusations that Minsk has been encouraging unauthorized arrivals of migrants to the EU.

Baghdad last week announced a suspension of flights to Belarus to stem the flow and “protect Iraqi citizens who have been victims of smuggling networks.”

Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf said a special flight returned to Baghdad from Minsk on Tuesday night with 240 Iraqis on board, a day after 130 others were flown back home.

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Additional flights will be laid on to return more Iraqis stranded on the Belarus frontier with EU member Lithuania, he said, although their number was unknown “because the border is very long,” he told AFP.

The European Union on Tuesday reported a “significant decrease” in migrants crossing the border from Belarus since Iraq halted the regular Baghdad-Minsk flights.

Lithuania accuses Belarusian authorities of funneling migrants to its border in retaliation for EU sanctions.

The sanctions have been imposed over President Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on the opposition and protesters in the wake of a disputed ballot.

Parliament in Lithuania has passed a law giving the green light to the construction of a fence along its border with Belarus.

Lithuania, which has offered strong support and refuge to the Belarusian opposition, began turning back migrants this week, after more than 4,000 people entered the country from Belarus since the start of the year.

EU ministers are to hold crisis talks on the migration influx issue next week.

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