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Migrants in Peril, and Raw Emotions, in a Volatile European Border Standoff


Thousands of migrants, many of them Iraqi Kurds, have been escorted to the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia under the watchful eyes of the Belarusian authorities, according to E.U. officials. And once there, they are stranded in bitter cold, prevented from entering the European Union or from going back into Belarus.

The Iraqi embassy in Moscow announced on Thursday that it will organize the evacuation of citizens stranded in Belarus who wish to return home, an offer that is unlikely to be taken up by many of those who risked their lives and spent thousands of dollars trying to escape the country.

Border crossings for cars and pedestrians have been closed but freight trains carrying Belarusian goods, including its main export, potash fertilizer, still cross into Europe, prompting demands from some that all traffic across the border be stopped.

“We are warning Europe, and yet they threaten to close the border,” Mr. Lukashenko said, according to the Belarusian state news agency. “What if we close off the natural gas headed there? I would recommend the leadership of Poland, the Lithuanians and other brainless people to think before they speak.”

With soldiers sealing off the border zone from news media and aid workers, the reported death of the 14-year-old Kurdish boy could not be confirmed. The boy’s body, according to a report by OKO.press, a Polish website, had been taken away overnight by Belarusian security services.

The crisis has threatened to entangle countries far beyond Eastern Europe, including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, whose airlines have been accused of playing into Mr. Lukashenko’s hands by flying migrants to Minsk, the Belarusian capital. The European Union said earlier this week that it is considering blacklisting “third-country airlines active in human trafficking.”

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday responded angrily to accusations that Turkish Airlines, by operating flights to Minsk, had aggravated the crisis. Turkey, the ministry said in a statement, had played no part in the crisis and, having hosted millions of refugees from Syria, “is one of the countries that best understands the test Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are left to face, and is in full support of its allies.”

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