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Belarus says 2,000 migrants spent night in logistics centre


Moscow – Around 2,000 migrants who had been camped out in freezing conditions at Belarus’s border with Poland spent the night in a logistics centre after their camp was cleared by border guards, state news agency Belta said Friday.

Thousands of migrants — mainly Iraqi Kurds — have spent months trying to get into the EU from Belarus in a crisis the West says Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko engineered as retribution for sanctions imposed against his regime. Minsk has denied the charges. The Belarusian border force said Thursday that it had cleared a makeshift migrant camp that had for days held 2,000 people, with the people relocated to a vast hangar near the border.

Over 1,000 people had already moved to the centre on Tuesday night. Belta on Friday published photos of the migrants lying on mats in the facility and wrote that “for several it was their first warm night”. Minsk said Thursday that there are now around 7,000 migrants in the ex-Soviet country. 

It said that it will take responsibility for sending around 5,000 of those migrants home — if they would like to leave — and alleged that the EU will create a “humanitarian corridor” to Germany for the other around 2,000. Germany, however, swiftly shot down that claim, and Belta reported Friday that the migrants are still hoping to make it to the EU rather than return home. 

On Thursday, hundreds of Iraqis who had failed to cross into the EU from Belarus returned home on the first repatriation flight organised by Baghdad.  An Iraqi Airways plane brought 431 people home from Belarus, in a first repatriation flight. 

Lukashenko and his Russian ally President Vladimir Putin have rejected the accusations that Belarus has orchestrated the crisis and criticised Poland for not taking the migrants in.  Polish media say at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began in August. On Thursday, a Polish NGO said it had found a Syrian couple who had lost their one-year-old child while sleeping in the forest on the border for a month.

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