Roughly 600 Iraqi nationals stranded on Belarus border to land in Erbil on Friday morning
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Both Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Region announced on Thursday that roughly 600 citizens who have been stranded for weeks in freezing weather along the Belarusian border with Poland and other European Union members states would be repatriated on the following morning.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Ahmed al-Sahaf said in a statement that "efforts are continuing to return the migrants voluntarily, and 617 Iraqis are now being enlisted, in coordination with Iraqi Airways from the Belarusian capital, Minsk."
"Our priority is to evacuate children, women, and the elderly," he wrote, noting that "diplomatic teams of the ministry are closely following up on providing humanitarian support and securing voluntary return," referring to Iraq's longstanding policy to refuse forced repatriations of its citizens.
The Iraqi Ministry of Transport had announced, earlier on Thursday, that government-run Iraqi Airways would operate two special flights specifically for the would-be immigrants.
In a separate public statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), spokesperson Jutyar Adil said a tweet that “tomorrow another group of stranded migrants on Belarus-Poland border will be landing in Erbil.”
Although the numbers given by the federal and regional governments differed, the wording in the KRG announcement left room for additional passengers which could square the two.
“The first flight will be carrying more than 185 people which is expected to land on 2:00 am, and the second flight will be carrying around 400 people which is expected to land at 7:00 am.”
Tomorrow another group of stranded migrants on Belarus-Poland border will be landing in Erbil. The first flight will be carrying more than 185 people which is expected to land on 2:00 am, & the second flight will be carrying around 400 people which is expected to land at 7:00 am.— Jotiar Adil (@KRGSpokesperson) November 25, 2021
On Nov. 18, over 400 people, mostly Kurds, arrived in Erbil on a flight from Belarus.
While speaking to Kurdistan 24 shortly after their arrival in Erbil, returning migrants gave a mix of reasons for setting out on the dangerous journey, from Yezidis (Ezidis) who had been living in Kurdistan Region displacement camps since fleeing the disputed district of Sinjar (Shingal) when ISIS took over the area in 2014 to others who cited a lack of local job opportunities as their motivation.