EU pressure on Minsk-bound airlines is bearing fruit, Commission says

A FlyDubai plane at Minsk airport [Twitter account of Minsk airport]

The European Commission has established contacts with various airlines in an effort to cut the Minsk-facilitated migration route, the EU executive said on Friday (12 November) as several airlines confirmed they will restrict certain practices that could benefit human trafficking.

In recent days, the EU has been in talks with international carriers such as Turkish Airlines to urge them to suspend one-way tickets to Minsk, from where the bloc says migrants are transported to the Polish border as a means to pressure the EU.

The development comes as EU foreign ministers are set to agree on a new round of sanctions while the bloc is exploring options for how to stop Belarusian state-owned airline Belavia from leasing aircraft from companies including Ireland’s AerCap and Denmark’s Nordic Aviation Capital.

Belavia is likely to be hit by the EU’s next sanctions package. The airline said on Friday it would stop allowing citizens of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to board flights from Turkey to Belarus at the request of Turkish authorities.

“In line with a decision by the … Turkish authorities, citizens of Iraq, Syria, Yemen will not be accepted for transportation on flights from Turkey to Belarus from 12.11.2021,” it said in a statement on its website.

According to several EU diplomats, the EU is however unlikely to move against Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines or others at this point.

At the same time, Turkish Airlines, one of the main international carriers flying to Minsk, has agreed to suspend one-way ticket sales for Middle Eastern migrants seeking to reach Europe via Belarus, the European Commission said on Friday.

Commissioners Margaritis Schinas and Adina Valean are also in touch with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the and Arab Air Carriers Organisation, the Commission’s deputy chief spokesperson, Dana Spinant, confirmed.

“Contacts have also been established with various airlines and all airlines contacted have strongly condemned any form of human trafficking and have indicated their full commitment to fight against it,” Spinant said.

Iraqi Airlines has also said it will not fly to Minsk, the Commission said, after top EU officials began talks with Iraq, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Turkey to try to stop migrants being encouraged by Belarus to come to the EU.

“These contacts are already showing fruit,” said the Commission spokesperson for transport, Stefan De Keersmaecker.

“Iraqi Airlines has confirmed that it will not resume flights to Minsk, and Turkish Airlines will also suspend sales of one-way tickets to Minsk from Turkey,” he said.

He listed a number of individual airlines, including Fly Dubai, Turkish Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Air Arabia, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Middle Eastern Airlines, Oman Air, Iraqi Airways and Egypt Air.

“All these airlines have strongly condemned any form of human trafficking. And this has even led to a few very concrete actions already,” Keersmaecker added.

Separately, European Council President Charles Michel thanked Turkey on Friday (12 November) for what he said was an agreement to stop citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen planning to travel to Belarus from buying tickets or boarding at Turkish airports.

A decision had been taken to resolve “the problem of illegal border crossings between the EU and Belarus,” Michel said, thanking Turkish authorities and making a reference to the Turkish Civil Aviation Authority.

The body had said the decision to deny tickets and boarding was “until further notice.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Georgi Gotev]

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