Syrian travel agent claims demand for flights to Belarus increased price by $ 1,400

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Amid the border crisis between Poland and Belarus, demand for flights to Belarus has skyrocketed in Syria.

The Associated Press published a series of interviews that revealed the plight of migrants caught in the midst of the border conflict between Poland and Belarus. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Syrian travel agent revealed that the price of flight packages from Damascus to Minsk, Belarus, was originally $ 2,600. This package would include one flight and five nights of accommodation. However, the agent revealed that the price for this package is now $ 4,000 per person, an increase of $ 1,400 due to high demand.

However, the number of flights available to Minsk is said to be declining. Turkey has banned the sale and use of airline tickets to migrants from Iraq, Yemen and Syria in Belarus. In response, Belarusian airline Belavia also revealed that it would not sell tickets to migrants from those countries. In addition, the EU is now considering imposing sanctions on airlines that allegedly contributed to the crisis, according to the Associated Press.

Many Iraqis arrested by Polish authorities have been placed on deportation flights. Iraqi Airways has reportedly repatriated around 1,000 Iraqi detainees from Belarus. Airline spokesman Hussein Jalil told The Associated Press that more flights are currently scheduled.

However, some Iraqis are still considering leaving the country, even if it means spending $ 4,000 per person. An anonymous citizen told The Associated Press that he recently paid for a tour package to Belarus and applied for visas for himself and two of his children.

“There are people who do it the first time, some the second time, and some the third time, but eventually they do,” said the unnamed man. “I have to guarantee the future of my children.

For more Associated Press reporting, see below.

A Syrian travel agent revealed that the price of flight packages from Damascus to Minsk, Belarus, was originally $ 2,600; now it’s $ 4,000 per person. Above, migrants at a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region on November 12.
Photo by Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA / AFP via Getty Images

Sarkawt Ismat was cold, hungry and terrified, trapped between Polish and Belarusian troops clashing on either side of the European Union’s eastern border.

The 19-year-old Iraqi taxi driver is among thousands of people from the Middle East who have tried to enter the EU in recent months through a back door opened by non-EU Belarus.

Ismat left his home in Dohuk, a town in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, two weeks ago, after selling his taxi. He paid a local travel agency $ 2,600 for a bus to Turkey, a hotel stay in Istanbul, a plane ticket to Minsk and three nights in a hotel in the Belarusian capital.

He hoped to enter Poland and eventually reach Germany to join his older brother, Sarwar, 22, who had made the trip a success.

Somewhere near the Polish border, his dreams were dashed. He and other members of his group were arrested by Belarusian troops who he said beat them and took their belongings, including his money and cell phone. For days, the group was trapped in a forest, banned from entering Poland or returning to Minsk.

“I’m scared and want to come back but I don’t have a dime,” he said in a telephone interview, using a borrowed cell phone. “It’s an absolute humiliation here,” he said.

“When I traveled they told me it was very easy. ‘It only takes three days to get to Europe.'”

This turned out to be wrong.

Powerful job lure

For many in the Middle East, battered by conflict and desperation, the lure of jobs and stability in Europe has always been strong. Legal entry has been nearly impossible as the EU has tightened its borders in recent years. Every year, tens of thousands of people try to enter, embarking on perilous and sometimes deadly journeys by sea and land.

Others were put off by such risks until a seemingly easy opportunity for entry into Europe appeared to open up earlier this year.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, furious after the EU imposed sanctions on his authoritarian regime following a harsh internal crackdown on dissent, announced he was retaliating by relaxing border controls against migrants at destination of the West. EU officials accused him of using migrants as pawns, while Lukashenko denies it and claims Europe is violating their rights by denying them safe passage.

Belarus has started offering easy tourist visas to Iraqis, Syrians and others from the Middle East and Africa. This meant that they could now reach the edge of Europe on comfortable flights, then try to sneak from Belarus to Poland, Lithuania or Latvia, all members of the EU.

Thousands of people have tried the trip since the summer. This has led in recent weeks to increasingly tense clashes on the Belarusian border and scenes of desperate migrants huddled in forests amid freezing temperatures. Poland has sent riot police and troops to reinforce its border guards. At least eight deaths have been reported.

Mother’s fears confirmed

For Sarkawt Ismat’s mother, her predicament in Belarus seemed to confirm her fears. Adla Salim had begged him not to go.

Sarwar, had left for Belarus three months ago and reached Germany in early October, after spending 10 days hiding in a forest. He suffers from chronic heart problems and is hospitalized in Germany, she said. The family only let him go because he was sick and there was nothing they could do for him in Dohuk.

“We tried to convince Sarkawt not to go, but he was very insistent,” she said.

Sarkawt, who still owes $ 10,000 from the taxi he sold to pay for the trip, money his father, a Peshmerga fighter, now has to repay out of his monthly income of around $ 1,000.

All that money now seems to have gone for nothing. Sarkawt was cleared Thursday to leave the forest for Minsk, in preparation for his return to Iraq.

His mother, a 45-year-old housewife, says all she wants is her boy to be home.

“He calls out crying, saying ‘I want to go back to Iraq. I don’t want anything. I just want to go back. I’m hungry and cold,'” she said.

Border camp
Turkey has banned the sale and use of airline tickets to migrants from Iraq, Yemen and Syria in Belarus. Above, migrants from the Middle East and beyond warm up during a fire rally on the Belarusian-Polish border near Grodno, Belarus on November 11.
Leonid Shcheglov / BelTA via AP, File


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