Center “Dossier” Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the German edition Der Spiegel published documents confirming that the Belarusian authorities were involved in the migration crisis in Lithuania. The transportation of Iraqi citizens to the Belarusian-Lithuanian border was carried out with the participation of the state travel company Tsentrkurort, which is part of the Office of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.
In response to the deterioration of relations with Europe, the Belarusian authorities decided to use the flow of migrants to blackmail European countries, suggest the authors of the Dossier and Der Spiegel investigation. If in the spring of 2021 the number of refugees entering the European Union through the Belarusian border was in the tens, then by the summer the flow had grown to more than 100 people per day.
Since May 2021, the number of regular flights from Iraq to Belarus began to grow sharply. Iraqi Airways, which flew from Baghdad to Minsk, increased the number of flights from four to five per week and opened new flights from three Iraqi cities. In addition, the carrier Fly Baghdad began to fly to the capital of Belarus. Moreover, Tsentrkurort was one of the companies that coordinated the flow of illegal migrants.
From the published documents it follows that at the beginning of May 2021, “Tsentrkurort” signed an agreement on cooperation “in the development of international tourism between the countries of the Arab world and the Republic of Belarus” with the Belarusian travel company “Oskartur”. It is headed by Salah Muhaimen Al-Asadi.
Soon, Oskartur began to report to Tsentrkurort on contacts with Fly Baghdad, and a few weeks later the Iraqi carrier launched regular flights to Minsk. In addition, Oskartur approached Tsentrkurort with a request to help 51 Iraqi citizens obtain visas, although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of issuing visas, not the Presidential Property Management Department. In one of the cases, Oskartur asked Tsentrkurort to help with obtaining a visa for an Iraqi named Mohammed Nasser Alvan Okbi, who had previously been offered a contract for marketing services by a travel company and sent a copy of the contract to Tsentrkurort by the Office of the President of Belarus.
Subsequently, another Belarusian company, Coastal Star, applied to Tsentrkurort for visas for 10 Iraqi citizens. It follows from the documents that more than 200 applications for visas for Iraqi citizens have passed through the presidential Tsentrkurort. The purpose of the arrival of almost all “tourists”, including children, was “to conduct a hunting tour in the hunting grounds of the institution“ Minskaya ROS ”of the RGOO“ BOOR ”.
Some visa applications also indicated accommodation hotels – Minsk and Belarus, but the Iraqis do not stay in hotels: they usually spend a couple of nights there, and then go to the Benyakoni border checkpoint and try to climb over the 1.5-meter fence separating Belarus from Lithuania. If successful, all the doors to Europe are opened for migrants: the borders between the EU countries are practically not guarded.
Tsentrkurort also signed a contract for the provision of transport services with the Belarusian company Stroytur, which rents buses with drivers. Subsequently, this company issued invoices to Tsentrkurort for the provision of transport services on the route Minsk – Minsk airport – Minsk. The trips took place at least three times: May 14, 15 and 21.
Almost all Iraqi visa applications mention two contact persons from Center Resort and Oscartur. Der Spiegel was able to speak with a former employee of the Center Resort, whose name appears in the inquiries. According to him, Tsentrkurort has helped hundreds of Iraqi citizens obtain visas. In the arrivals area of ”tourists” were waiting for buses ordered by “Tsentrkurort”, which transported them to hotels in the center of Minsk.
“It quickly became clear to me that these were not tourist trips,” says an ex-employee of Tsentrkurort. “I realized that it was all illegal, and I quit at the end of May.”
The state travel agency denies any involvement in the import of migrants from Iraq: Director of Tsentrkurort Natalya Yermak told Der Spiegel that “the company does not work by invitations to the Republic of Belarus from guests from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan”.
The Dossier Center notes that at the height of the migration crisis, Stefan Korte, a member of the German far-right party Alternative for Germany, who opposes migration and maintains close contacts with the Kremlin, came to Lithuania for a week. Korte met with Lithuanian politicians, and also spoke to residents of the town of Devaniskes, six kilometers from the border with Belarus, where protests against the placement of illegal migrants broke out several days earlier. The politician argued that the newcomers threaten women and children and often commit violent crimes. He also advised not to pay attention if the Lithuanians are called “pro-Putin” because of their unwillingness to accept migrants.
In early August, the Lithuanian side officially announced its decision to send illegal migrants back to Belarus. Due to the continuous flow of refugees, Lithuanians are ready to pay migrants 300 euros to leave the country, but so far there are not many who want to leave the country.
On August 9, Alexander Lukashenko announced that Belarus is ready to continue to receive tourists from the UAE, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, explaining this for economic reasons. At the same time, he denied accusations of organizing illegal migration.