By YURAS KARMANAU
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarusian authorities say they have helped more than 100 migrants leave the country on Monday and more are prepared to leave Tuesday, a statement that comes after almost two weeks of tensions at Belarus’ border with Poland, where hundreds of people remain stuck.
Belarus’ Interior Ministry officials said Tuesday that 118 migrants flew out of the capital, Minsk, on Monday to their home countries after the ex-Soviet country’s authorities “assisted them with paperwork and passing through the state border.”
The authorities carry out this work “daily,” and on Tuesday another group of migrants is expected to leave Belarus, said Alexei Begun, head of the department for citizenship and migration at the ministry. Begun didn’t mention the nationality of the migrants or countries they departed to.
Last week, more than 400 Iraqi migrants left Belarus on an evacuation flight organized by Iraqi authorities.
Since Nov. 8, a large group of people, mostly from the Middle East, has been stranded in Belarus at a border crossing with Poland, trapped as forces from the two countries face off against each other. Most are fleeing conflict or a sense of hopelessness at home, and aim to reach Germany or other Western European countries.
The West has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of luring the migrants to the border to use them as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation European Union in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian government. Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis, which has seen migrants entering the country since summer and then trying to cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
About 2,000 people are currently staying at a warehouse facility near the border with Poland. Lukashenko has said a total of 7,000 migrants remain in the country.
The spokesman for Poland’s security services, Stanislaw Zaryn estimated around 10,000 migrants are in Belarus now.
Zaryn warned against interpreting recent moves to repatriate some of the migrants as a de-escalation of the crisis.
“These signals do not prove a change or a backing away from the strategic plans of the Lukashenko regime,” the official said. “At first sight these decisions and these flights may look like a de-escalation of this crisis, but we believe without doubt that such conclusions would be premature.”
Officials of the International Organization for Migration and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ office arrived in Belarus on Tuesday to discuss aid delivery and paperwork needed to repatriate the migrants.
Monika Scislowska contributed to this report from Warsaw, Poland.
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