WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Turkey’s Civil Aviation Authority said Friday that the country is halting airline ticket sales to Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni citizens wanting to travel to Belarus, which in recent months became a route for migrants and refugees trying to enter the European Union.
EU leaders have put increasing pressure on airlines to stop bringing people from the Middle East to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, from where asylum-seekers seeking better lives have traveled by car to the EU’s doorstep.
Thousands have managed to cross illegally into EU member nations Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since the summer, though many others have also been kept from entering or pushed back.
Among them are Iraqi Kurds and Syrians fleeing conflict, persecution or poverty. Many aim to reach Germany or other western European countries, sometimes to reunite with relatives already settled there.
In a brief statement posted on Twitter, Turkey’s aviation authority said its decision to halt ticket sales was valid until further notice.
Citing the Turkish decision, Belarusian airline Belavia said it also would not transport citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen on its Istanbul-Minsk flights starting Friday. Belavia said in a statement that it planned to reimburse the cost of already purchased tickets.
The EU said it also has received confirmation that Iraqi Airlines will not resume flights to Minsk.
EU and Polish officials have accused the longtime leader of Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, of facilitating illegal border crossings in retaliation for sanctions the EU imposed on his government for its brutal crackdown on dissent following Lukashenko’s disputed reelection last year.
German federal police reported Wednesday that 1,246 unauthorized entries to Germany “with a connection to Belarus” had been recorded in the first nine days of November. In all, there have been 9,087 such entries so far this year, German police said.
Polish authorities said a large number of people remain just across the border in neighboring Belarus and Polish border guards continue to rebuff attempts to enter Poland illegally each day.
There are now hundreds of people, among them families with children, staying in makeshift camps on the Belarusian side of the border. Attempts to cross have become increasingly dangerous as Poland fortifies its side of the border and pushes people back. Temperatures at the Poland-Belarus border drop to below freezing at night.
A Polish official said the country’s ongoing conflict with Belarus’ government is not expected to deescalate in the coming days. Paweł Soloch, the head of the National Security Bureau, said Poland was facing a “a psychological, hybrid war, waged consciously by centers that want to weaken or even ultimately destroy our country.”
Poland’s Border Guards said in the previous day they recorded 223 attempts to illegally cross the Polish border from Belarus, fewer than earlier in the week.
Poland’s Defense Ministry said one group crossed a fence at the village of Kuznica but were stopped by officials. The ministry posted a video which it said showed the incident.
The Border Guards agency posted another video on Twitter which it said shows Belarusian personnel using a green laser at the border.
“We assume that these were attempts to blind our officers and soldiers patrolling the border,” the post said.
The information was impossible to verify. Independent journalists face limits to their reporting in Belarus, and a state of emergency in Poland’s border zone prevents media from entering the area.