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Poland accuses Turkey of 'synchronising' refugee crisis with Belarus and Russia

Frustrated Polish prime minister says Warsaw's recent help to Ankara 'turned out to be a one-way favour'
A Syrian walks through the forest near Hajnowka, Poland, during a joint rescue operation by the Grupa Granica (Border Group) and Medycy na Granicy (Medics on the Border), on 23 October 2021 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Poland criticised Turkey on Tuesday for maintaining an open corridor between Istanbul and Minsk, and helping Belarus to bring thousands of refugees to its border with Poland. 

“We see that [Turkish actions] are fully synchronised with Belarus and Russia. It bothers us, we don't like it,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during an emergency parliamentary session. 

Morawiecki mostly blames Belarus for Poland's refugee crisis, but says the mastermind is Moscow. But in response to a question, he also criticised Ankara for not doing enough. 

“A month or two ago, Turkey seemed to want to work closely with us,” he added. “Our help in extinguishing the fire, our help in promoting the Turkish tourism industry, unfortunately turned out to be a one-way favour. And we don't like it. And we point this out to our Turkish friends.” 

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EU officials, particularly Germans, blame Turkish national carrier Turkish Airlines - which flies from Istanbul to Minsk - as well as Russian national carrier Aeroflot, for turning a blind eye to the transit of migrants and refugees. 

Turkish Airlines said in a statement on Tuesday that the allegations that it is establishing "a ground for illegal immigration traffic" were baseless. 

“Our company makes sure to comply with all security precautions and sensibilities in cooperation with international authorities in all its flights operated to all corners of the world,” the carrier said. 

Turkish Airlines also cut its weekly flights from Istanbul to Minsk from 14 to 10 from 31 October, flight data indicates. 

Belarus is a popular destination for Turkish tourists, as there is visa-free travel between the two countries. 

Turkey and Poland strengthened their relations in May, with Poland signing a deal to purchase 24 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones from private Turkish drone magnate Baykar. 

More than 2,000 people, including children and women, mainly from Middle Eastern countries, have been stuck at the Belarus border for weeks, in freezing temperatures. Footage indicates crowds of people have been trying to tear down a barbed-wire border fence on the Belarusian side of the border, with Polish guards trying to disperse them with tear gas. 

Belarus's leader, Alexander Lukashenko, denies claims that his country is sending people over the border in revenge for EU sanctions.

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