The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Turkey and the flag carrier of Belarus, Belavia, decided to suspend the ability to purchase airline tickets to fly to Minsk, Belarus, for citizens of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Turkey’s CAA said on November 12, 2021, that the decision to halt ticket sales came as a response “to the problem of illegal border crossings” happening between Poland, Lithuania and Belarus in recent months as a route to enter the territory of the EU.

“Due to the problem of illegal border crossings between the European Union and Belarus, it has been decided that the citizens of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen who want to travel to Belarus from Turkish airports will not be allowed to buy tickets and boarding until further notice,’ the CAA said in its statement.

Later the same day,  Belavia took a similar decision. Citing Turkey‘s decision, the national airline of Belarus announced that it will no longer accept citizens of three particular countries on its flights connecting Turkey and Belarus. 

“In accordance with the decision of the competent authorities of Turkey, from [November 12, 2021], citizens of Iraq, Syria, Yemen will not be accepted for carriage on flights from Turkey to Belarus,” the official Belavia’s statement reads.

The airline added: “Belavia passengers falling under this ban can make a full refund of the ticket price without deduction at the place of purchase.”

Various EU countries, primarily Germany, Poland, and Lithuania, have accused Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating a migrant crisis by soliciting a flow of migrants from Iraq and other destinations to Belarus and then directing them towards the EU border. The flow of illegal migrants was reportedly induced by offering cheap Belarusian tourist visas to Iraq, Syrian, Congolese, Cameroonian, and other nationals, promising easier passage into the EU and increasing the frequency of flights between Middle Eastern destinations and Minsk. 

Thousands of migrants have already managed to use this route to get to Belarus, where government forces directed and allegedly even helped them to reach the Polish or Lithuanian border. 

Reacting to the situation, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, issued a statement calling for more sanctions on the Belarusian regime, as well as other parties involved in the alleged smuggling of Middle Eastern migrants to the EU border.

“The EU will, in particular, explore how to sanction, including through blacklisting, third-country airlines that are active in human trafficking,” von der Leyen said in the statement published on November 8, 2021.