Minsk airport said hundreds of Iraqi nationals fled home on Thursday after tensions at the Belarus-Poland borders flared.
Belarusian presidency spokeswoman Natalya Eismont said that at least 374 Iraqi migrants flew back home on a plane from Binsk to Iraq.
The mass return of Iraqi citizens followed a call by Iraqi officials, telling the migrants that EU borders would stay blocked.
Iraq’s consul in Russia Majid al-Kilani said that lat east 430 Iraqis had requested a flight back home.
Meanwhile, state-run Belarusian media reported that there were no more migrants left in the makeshift camps near the Polish frontier after authorities opened a heated warehouse for them to shelter from the cold. This could not immediately be verified.
The moves mark a de-escalation in the migrant crisis opposing Belarus against the European Union.
Earlier on Thursday, Belarus said that there were around 7,000 migrants in the ex-Soviet country, with around 2,000 of them camped on the border with EU member Poland.
The West has accused Belarus’ disputed president, Alexander Lukashenko, of using the migrants as pawns, flying them in from the Middle East and then sending them towards the EU’s borders.
It’s alleged to be an attempt to destabilise the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for EU sanctions on Lukashenko’s administration over a crackdown following a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
Minsk denies orchestrating the crisis, which has seen migrants entering the country since summer and then trying to cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Polish security forces arrested around a hundred migrants overnight as they tried to break across the border from Belarus, AFP reported Poland’s defence ministry as saying on Thursday.
“A group of around 100 migrants were arrested by Polish services,” the ministry said, accusing Belarusian forces of having “forced the migrants to throw stones at Polish soldiers to distract their attention”.
The attempted crossing happened a few hundred metres away near the village of Dubicze Cerkiewne, it added.
A video released by the defence ministry showed Polish soldiers surrounding a large group of migrants grouped on the ground at night in a forest close to a barbed-wire fence.
The ministry claimed Belarusian special forces, the Spetsnaz, were behind the move.