EU Ponders Turkish Airlines Ban Over Belarus Migrant Flights

The European Union is currently pondering to ban Turkish Airlines from EU airspace in retribution for the airline flying migrants to Belarus.

Flight ban

The European Commission (EC), the executive body of the European Union (EU), is currently mulling a ban of Turkish Airlines.

In a press statement, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen explained that such a drastic step might be required to prevent the migrant crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland escalating any further.

EC President von der Leyen said: “The EU will in particular explore how to sanction, including through blacklisting, third country airlines that are active in human trafficking.”

turkish airlines planes status extension istanbul
Turkish Airlines planes at Istanbul Airport. ©Paliparan

Minsk

Turkish Airlines is one of the airlines accused by the EU of flying migrants from across the Middle East to the Belarusian capital of Minsk according to EU Observer.

With the fierce statement, the EC hopes to pressure Turkish Airlines to stop flying Middle Eastern migrants through their Istanbul hub to Minsk.

Another major airline which has been accused by the block of flying migrants to Belarus is the Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines. FlyDubai, which is fully owned by the Government of Dubai, could also face a ban in the EU after being accused of flying migrants to Minsk.

If the airlines would fail to cooperate to stem the migrant flows, they might find themselves being cut off from the lucrative EU market, which needless to say would cost them millions.

minsk airport belarus
Minsk Airport, Belarus. ©Paliparan

Migrant flights

Other airlines which have been accused by the EU of abetting human trafficking are Cham Wings (based in Damascus, Syria) and Belavia (the state-owned airline of Belarus).

Given that both of these airlines are already blacklisted in the EU, they have less to fear from new possible steps being taken by the European Commission.

Previously, Iraq Airways already suspended its flights to Minsk after EU pressure.

belavia minsk airport
Belavia planes at Minsk Airport. ©Paliparan

Belarus border crisis

In case you might have missed the background story behind all of this: There is currently a big crisis going on at the border between Belarus and Poland.

At this outer EU border, thousands of mainly Middle Eastern migrants are trying to make their way into the EU in search for a better life.

With Polish border guards trying desperately to block attempts by the migrants to get into the EU, the situation is also growing worse by the hour for the migrants themselves, who find themselves being stuck in cold temperatures in no man’s land.

Politics

Although the border crisis has now clearly escalated with more and more migrants trying to storm their way into Poland, the situation has already been going on for several months at lower intensity.

The regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of state-sponsored human trafficking by handing out tourist visas to Middle Eastern migrants, misleading them that from Belarus they can easily make it into Poland and thus the EU.

Once they legally arrive in Belarus, the migrants are trafficked to the Polish border, where Belarussian border guards have even been caught cutting gaps in fences and pushing migrants across to Poland.

It’s a is a cunning and cynical ploy by the Lukashenko regime, which has been hit hard by EU sanctions after rigged elections. the hard-handed suppression of peaceful protestors and jailing of opposition leaders.

By playing the migrant-card, Lukashenko does not only put pressure on the EU in the hope of having some sanctions reverted, but at the same time his regime also pockets some much-needed hard currency as the migrants often pay thousands of dollars for the Belarusian tourist visa and the promise of a new life in the EU.

My thoughts

I’m quite curious how this border crisis will end. Although the EU does not have the reputation for playing hard-ball politics and taking effective measures, they managed to pressure Iraq Airways before to stop flying to Minsk.

With Turkish Airlines, Pegasus and FlyDubai, three much bigger and reputable airlines are now involved in the border conflict between the EU and Belarus.

Before anyone starts to blame Turkish Airlines, Pegasus and FlyDubai, it is important to note that technically these airlines don’t do anything wrong.

After all, they are just transferring passengers from the Middle East to Belarus on their normal route network through their hub airports. Given that all passengers reportedly have a valid passport and visa for Belarus, these airlines are just following the normal rules.

It is an altogether different situation when it comes to Cham Wings and Belavia operating direct charter flights between Syria and Belarus – flights which “suddenly” commenced after the Belarusian government started handing out visas to migrants.

Still, it will be interesting to see what the European Commission will do and how companies like Turkish Airlines will react. If the EC will play hard-ball, it’s only a matter of time before Turkish Airlines will somehow refuse these migrants to board or will even cease flights to Minsk altogether.

UPDATE 11-11: According to a high-ranking Polish official, Turkish Airlines caved to EU pressure and will no longer accept Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni nationals onboard their flights to Minsk (with the exception of diplomatic passport holders).

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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