Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin are using their state-owned air carriers, Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot, to facilitate the travel of undocumented migrants, most of whom after traveling to Minsk have been stranded on Belarus’s border with Poland for nearly two months, the German Bild daily reported on Monday, citing high-ranking German security officers.
Thousands of migrants are trying to enter EU member Poland through Belarus, with Warsaw saying the wave threatens the security of the entire bloc.
Armed troops from both countries are deployed on the border amid escalating tensions.
Fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, migrants try to survive outdoors in poor conditions as temperatures dip toward freezing.
According to Bild, Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines, the Russian and Turkish flag carriers, respectively, play a major role in facilitating the travel of undocumented migrants, through which 6,000 have entered Belarus in the last six weeks.
According to the report, Turkish Airlines planes fly twice a day from İstanbul to Minsk, while Aeroflot has four flights a day from Moscow to the same destination.
Heiko Teggatz, the head of the Federal Police Union of Germany, told Bild that he fears it would be difficult for the European Union to sanction the airlines involved since they play an important role in the EU’s air traffic, while it would be easier to punish Belarusian airline Belavia.
“The EU needs to create a common front,” German interior minister Horst Seehofer told Bild. The newspaper described events as an “attack on the EU” by Putin and Erdoğan as well as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“The EU will … explore how to sanction, including through blacklisting, third-country airlines that are active in human trafficking,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday after several hundred mostly Kurdish people tried to break through a razor-wire fence near the Kuźnica crossing on the Belarus-Polish border.
Aerial video footage posted online showed them being pushed toward the border by armed Belarusian officers, some of them with attack dogs, and some of whom reportedly fired shots in the air behind the crowd, which included children.
At least 10 migrants have died in the region, according to the Polish media.
Turkey’s Erdoğan was accused last year of using migrants as bargaining chips by pushing them towards the Greek border.
According to observers, Lukashenko’s move is a response to the EU sanctions on his dictatorial regime, drawn from Erdoğan’s playbook.