BEIRUT (Reuters) – European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas on Friday welcomed a move by Turkish aviation authorities to limit air traffic to Belarus for certain nationalities as part of efforts to contain the migrant crisis on the EU’s eastern borders.
Schinas, who is visiting Beirut as a second stop on a tour of countries he is lobbying to put a stop to the flow of migrants to Belarus, said flights out of Turkey to Belarus should go down to zero from 17 after the decision.
The EU earlier said that Turkish Airlines, one of the main international carriers flying to Minsk, had agreed to suspend one-way ticket sales for Middle Eastern migrants seeking to reach Europe via Belarus.
Schinas said he would travel to Baghdad next and possibly onwards to Ankara for more talks. He had been to the United Arab Emirates on his first stop where he said the Emiratis were very firmly on the side of the European Union.
“Overall we are seeing progress on all fronts,” he told a news conference in Beirut.
“This is the moment when the EU is counting on our friends and we are very happy to see we have many.”
Thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, are sheltering in freezing conditions in forests on the frontiers between Belarus and the EU states Poland and Lithuania, which are refusing to let them cross.
The EU accuses Belarus of creating the crisis as part of a “hybrid attack” on the bloc following its imposition of sanctions on Minsk over human rights abuses.
EU capitals and the executive Commission say Minsk is distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying in the migrants and encouraging them to try to cross the border illegally. Belarus denies the accusations.
(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Gareth Jones)