Around 400 Iraqi migrants flown back to Erbil from Belarus

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A new flight returning around 400 Iraqi migrants that had hoped to cross into EU-member Poland from Belarus left Minsk on Tuesday, authorities said.

It will be followed by the first repatriation flight to Damascus that will take Syrian nationals home on Wednesday.

Thousands of migrants have been camped in Belarus for weeks, often in bitter conditions, hoping to cross the Polish border and enter the European Union.

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An Iraqi Airways flight departed Minsk National Airport for Erbil – the main city in Iraqi Kurdistan – at 11:07 GMT, the airport said.

A total of 417 passengers, including two small children, had registered for the flight.

More than 3,000 Iraqi migrants have been flown back since repatriation flights began in mid-November from the ex-Soviet state, with many showing injuries from the freezing cold.

Several thousand more migrants remain in Belarus, including at a logistics center at the Bruzgi checkpoint of the Belarusian-Polish border.

Most of the Iraqis stranded on the border said they had spent their savings, sold valuables and even taken loans to escape economic hardship in Iraq and start a new life in the EU.

On Wednesday, the first flight bringing Syrian migrants home is set to depart Minsk for Damascus at 00:30 GMT.

The West has accused Belarus of purposefully luring migrants – mostly from the Middle East – to the EU’s border as revenge for sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

Belarus has denied the claim and criticized the EU for not taking in the migrants.

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