Belarus’ national airline has announced it will no longer fly in citizens from a handful of Middle Eastern countries via the UAE, as the EU mulls sanctions on the country’s main airport amid a worsening illegal migration crisis.
In a statement released on Sunday, Belavia revealed that citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen will no longer be accepted on flights leaving Dubai for the Belarusian capital.
The notice also said that the airline will strengthen verification checks on those departing from the Gulf city.
The operator also claimed that it has “never facilitated the transportation of” asylum seekers from these countries to Minsk.
“Due to the increased attention on this issue… the airline has strengthened scrutiny on all its flights when it comes to compliance with all visa requirements and migration legislation of the Republic of Belarus and foreign countries,” the message reads.
The company’s notice comes as the EU considers implementing sanctions on around two dozen Belarusian officials, diplomats have reportedly told the Financial Times.
Syrian airline Cham Wings could also be hit for ferrying groups of desperate people to Belarus, in addition to a hotel in the capital for allegedly housing them upon their arrival.
Minsk Airport could also be subject to restrictive measures, although member states are yet to reach a consensus on a course of action, citing legal difficulties.
Commenting on the possible embargoes on Sunday in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, said that Brussels may strengthen penalties “by targeting precisely those who co-operate” with Belarus’ long-time leader, Alexander Lukashenko. Borrell, however, said that he does not want sanctions to “affect the living conditions of the people.”
Brussels blames Belarus for weaponizing migrants in what it called a “hybrid attack” against the EU.
The bloc’s top diplomat said that Lukashenko has misjudged the situation, arguing that “by retaliating in this way he was going to twist our arm and have the sanctions cancelled.” Instead, he remarked that “quite the opposite is happening.”
Belarus has denied the charges, and insisted that it was simply no longer prepared to intervene and stop people seeking to cross the border with the EU. Minsk has claimed that this action comes in response to sanctions from Brussels.