Minsk plans deportation of Tatar migrants to Iraq

Belarus cleared migrant holding camps at its border with Ukraine on Sunday and said on Monday that the first return flight would leave the country for Iraq later in the day.

Some 828 ethnic Tatar migrants were brought out of the camp near the town of Bandar-e-Alzhal and flown to Kiev on an Ilyushin-76 military plane. Their temporary housing on the small side of the border was made possible by a deal made between NATO member Belarus and Russia in which Moscow allowed Belarus to conduct the deportations on its territory in exchange for a tough new anti-narcotics program.

“All 828 persons have been distributed by international organizations to various regions in the Ural mountains,” Andrei Nikitin, the governor of the border region that borders Ukraine and Russia, said in a televised speech on Monday. He said the first flight would depart from the department of the capital Minsk to Kazan, Uzbekistan.

The migrants — mainly the descendants of Central Asian migrants who entered the Soviet Union before the collapse of the Soviet Union — were being repatriated in spite of opposition from their representatives at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In another statement on Monday, the UN agency said that the detention centers were “contrary to a basic commitment of international law, particularly by the former Soviet Union, to avoid the unnecessary detention of migrants.”

The political opposition also criticized the repatriation, citing the high level of dissatisfaction of the Tatar community in Belarus with what they said was a shoddy legal basis for the move.

The repatriation of migrants followed pressure from Russia, which wanted to drive a wedge between the Central Asian migrants and the politically dependent countries they visit.

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