Iraqi Airways has deployed one of its Boeing 747-400 for an emergency repatriation flight. The flight was carrying around 400 Iraqi citizens back from Minsk, Belarus, after many attempted to enter the EU through Poland. The recent weeks have seen airlines restrict travel into Belarus after the EU threatened sanctions for those who carry illegal migrants.
Today, 18th November, Iraqi Airways deployed on its Boeing 747-400 to Minsk, Belarus, to repatriate roughly 400 citizens. According to Al Jazeera, the flight aimed to bring home those who had gone to Belarus in hopes of crossing into the EU through the Polish border. However, with Poland refusing to open its borders, the situation has left thousands stranded in the cold with no resources.
Data from FlightRadar24.com shows that Iraqi Airways flight IA271 left Baghdad at 06:17 AM GMT for the roughly four-hour journey to Minsk. This flight was likely empty, however, the 744 has the capacity to carry 412 passengers across its cabins when full.
Due to a lack of flight data over Belarus, the repatriation flight left Minsk Airport at approximately 12:15 PM local time. A spokesperson for Iraq’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said that 430 passengers were documented to take off on the flight, with consular teams registering details of 50 others. The return flight first landed in Erbil in northern Iraq, where most passengers are from, before carrying on to Baghdad.
The repatriation flights come as tensions at the EU’s border reach a simmering point. With thousands of migrants camped at the borders of Poland and Lithuania, Europe has been taking action to prevent more from arriving.
This week, the EU formally moved to sanction airlines that carry unauthorized migrants into Belarus, intending to enter the EU. Turkish Airlines has canceled services to Belarus, as has Cham Wings from Syria. Now, travelers from high-risk countries in the Middle East and globally will be subject to strict scrutiny on their way to Belarus.
The threat of sanctions from the EU is likely to shake up many from inaction. While some have reduced or cut flights to Minsk, others have promised to scrutinize passengers. While Belarusian citizens will likely be allowed to travel, those from high-risk countries or with invalid paperwork could be barred.
However, Russian airlines and others not flying to the EU will not feel the pressure and are likely to continue allowing passengers to fly. For now, the crisis shows little signs of abating.
Politics of travel
We can expect to see some more countries bring back their citizens from the Belarusian border in the near future. Iraq has said there are no more repatriation flights planned, despite there possibly being more citizens. For now, the politics of travel is front and center, and airlines have to step up.