Aid arrives, some migrants head home, but Belarus tensions still high

Bruzgi, Belarus/Moscow, Nov. 19, (dpa/GNA) - The prospects for the crowds of migrants massed at the Belarusian-Polish border grew no clearer on Thursday, with some giving up hope of crossing, yet more showing up, and world leaders still seeking to negotiate an end to the crisis.

Hundreds had retreated from the border after days of hoping to gain access to EU territory, most of them to an emergency centre in the nearby town of Bruzgi.

But hundreds more seemed to be taking their place. And there were seemingly thousands more who have still not give up their spot despite wintry conditions.

"I'm afraid that I'm going to be deported and die in Iraq," said Hoshmand Abdalla, a Kurdish student staying in the emergency centre along with about 2,000 others.

"We want a better life in the EU, in Germany," says Faraidun Qadir, a friend of Abdalla's.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stands accused of encouraging thousands of people from war-torn countries to come to Belarus with a promise of a life in Europe. The European Union alleges that he sent them towards the bloc's eastern flank in retaliation for sanctions against his regime.

On Wednesday, the Belarusian leader agreed during a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to talk to the EU about the crisis.

While that talk didn't raise the prospect of Poland opening its border any time soon, it seems to have jump-started the amount of humanitarian aid coming to the border region.

On Thursday, the flurry of diplomatic activity continued in a bid to resolve the stand-off and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

In phone calls with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, French President Emmanuel Macron called for humanitarian assistance, according to the Elysee Palace.

Macron said he wanted to work towards a humane solution without legitimizing the way in which the people had arrived at the border.

Macron called on the EU to continue working with transit countries and countries of origin, as well as airlines, to stem the flow of migrants and allow people with no claim to asylum to return home.

Nonetheless, the situation at the border remained worrying, especially as the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported at the emergency shelter, a place where around 1,000 people have slept on the floor of the shelter in a very confined space during the past two nights.

A vaccination centre is to be opened in the storage facility and China's Sinopharm vaccine will be administered, Belarusian authorities said.

Due to the threat of rain, the Belarusian authorities also want to prepare more emergency shelters.

Some of the migrants have given up and volunteered to be sent back home. A group of Iraqis arrived back in their country on Thursday, on board a plane sent by the Iraqi government. They had been stranded for weeks at the border.

The Iraqi Ministry of Transport published photos on its Facebook page showing people leaving the plane, saying it landed in the northern Kurdish city of Erbil. Earlier, authorities said around 430 were expected to be on the flight. In total, some 460 people have registered to return to Iraq.

Clashes between Polish security forces and migrants desperate to cross have led to fears of a potential military escalation. The Polish government has claimed that the Belarusian authorities have been encouraging crowds to storm the border and equiping them with things like tear gas.

"Belarusian forces are provoking more and more directly. I hope they don't take that one step too far in the process," Polish Prime Miniser Mateusz Morawiecki said. "Because we Poles are determined to protect our border by all means. The eastern border of Europe and also of NATO."

He has warned that Europe will receive an influx of "millions" of migrants if border policies remain lax.