BEIRUT — Tourism Minister Walid Nassar issued a circular Thursday asking travel agents not to market Belarus as a tourist destination. The move is intended to help “stop illegal immigration,” the circular states.
Here’s what we know:
• In his circular Nassar said that many people from the Middle East and Africa are using Lebanon’s airport to travel to Belarus on Belavia Airlines with the expectation of eventually entering EU member state Poland, which shares a border with Belarus.
• Nassar’s circular is just the latest effort by Lebanon to rein in illegal migration attempts to Europe via Minsk. Last week, Lebanon decided that only foreigners with Belarussian residency permits would be allowed to board flights to Belarus.
• Rising numbers of Syrian refugees in Lebanon have sought over the past several months to use Belarus as a doorway to Europe. Some of those who have traveled have ended up stuck on the Belarus side of the border with Poland in harsh weather conditions — at least six people have died from hypothermia and exposure while waiting near the border.
• The European Union has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of permitting the entry of thousands of asylum seekers from Iraq, Syria and other conflict territories with the aim of pressuring European countries to lift sanctions on Minsk.