Palestinian Refugees Distressed as Migrants Are Sent Back to Damascus in 1st Flight from Belarus

Palestinian Refugees Distressed as Migrants Are Sent Back to Damascus in 1st Flight from Belarus

Many of the migrants in Belarus have said they do not wish to return to their home countries

Palestinian refugees stranded on the border between Poland and Belarus have voiced deep concern over their fate as the first repatriation flight returning migrants to Damascus from Belarus left Minsk National Airport on Wednesday, according to state media.

The flight, chartered by a Cham Wings Airlines Airbus, contained 96 passengers and took off at 08:24 local time (05:24 GMT), Belarus' BELTA state news agency said, citing the Telegram channel of Minsk National Airport.

The repatriation, which AFP reported is the first of its kind, returned Syrians stranded on the Belarusian-Polish border in a crisis that saw thousands of refugees attempt to cross into the EU via Belarus and put hundreds of migrants camped out in freezing conditions at risk.

Repatriation flights from the EU member began in mid-November, as more than 3,000 Iraqi migrants have been returned home since.

Thousands of migrants flocked to the Belarus border with Poland last month, with around 2,000 setting up makeshift camps in freezing conditions at the frontier, before border guards cleared the camps and the migrants moved to a logistics centre.

Some migrants say they were told by people smugglers that they would easily be able to get into the EU from Belarus for a sum of money - $3,390 each - paid to an intermediary in Turkey. 

The EU accused Belarus of purposefully luring migrants to the EU's border to destabilise the continental bloc as revenge for sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

Belarus has denied orchestrating the crisis and criticised the EU for not taking in the migrants.

The United States, Canada and European allies also recently announced fresh sanctions on Belarus over the border crisis, placing restrictions on government figures and entities, which Belarus denounced as "absurd" last week.

On 17 November, it was reported that a 44-year-old Palestinian refugee was arrested in the train station while on her way to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, along with a group of refugees. She was later found dead in mysterious circumstances. No further details were made available. According to reports, the victim is from the Neirab refugee camp in Aleppo, northern Syria.

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