Written by Staff Writer
Belarus has cleared the migrant camps at its western border with Russia, state television said on Monday, as the first flight carrying deportees left the ex-Soviet country.
The announcement came a week after protesters blocked some refugee buses, calling on the government to release Belarusian asylum seekers and help them enter neighboring Ukraine instead.
The BBC’s David Cutler told CNN that the activist protesters received support from the Ukrainian government and had pressed for the government to allow the refugees to stay.
After the refugee camps were cleared, the plane on the first flight out left Minsk early Monday with about 30 people, Reuters reported. It was scheduled to land in Sulaymaniyah, a regional capital in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Sergei Ignatov, the head of Belarus’ National Migration Service, said the deportations were going ahead quickly, despite some “technical difficulties.” He declined to give any further details, Reuters reported.
Regional traffic control head Minsk Senkevich told the same agency that the first flights would leave as soon as they were processed.
The protests in Minsk occurred during a visit by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, who was earlier in the week declared a champion of refugees in the wake of a deadly bomb attack on a bus in eastern Ukraine that killed ten people.
President Poroshenko expressed his country’s solidarity with Belarus when he met President Alyaksandr Lukashenko in Minsk on Monday.
“Yes, I thank Belarus for its stand, for your openness, even in this difficult time, even in this difficult week,” Poroshenko said.