European Union officials said they were analyzing air traffic to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, as potential evidence that Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko was effectively orchestrating a flow of migrants to EU countries. .
Minsk Airport’s schedule, as of October 31, shows at least 47 scheduled flights per week from Middle Eastern locations, compared to no more than 23 weekly flights in its previous schedule. Additional flights include a new daily route from Damascus on an Airbus A320 operated by the Syrian airline Cham Wings.
Travel agencies in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where many of the migrants come from, have been offering packages that include visas to Belarus and plane tickets through Turkey or the United Arab Emirates for about $3,000.
Peter Stano, a spokesman for the EU executive arm, said officials were overseeing flights from some two dozen countries carrying migrants to Minsk, such as Morocco, Syria, South Africa, Somalia, India, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Libya and Yemen. European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU is stepping up “dissemination with partner countries” to prevent migrants from arriving in Belarus in the first place.
“Our urgent priority is to close the supply that arrives at Minsk airport,” he said in a tweet.
Travel agents in the Iraqi Kurdistan region say they have contracts with agencies that charge about $ 1,300 per visa for Belarus diplomatic missions in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
“We now have more business of people leaving to emigrate than on holiday,” said Sana Jamal, a travel agency in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniyah.