Facebook fake news fuels EU crisis
November 23, 2021 - Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko’s people smuggling network uses front companies in the Middle East, clandestine money transfers, and fake Facebook reports promising easy entry to the EU.
Social media posts in Arabic and Kurdish -- particularly on Facebook and Telegram -- have promoted fake news reports of migration to the EU through Belarus. Smugglers openly share their phone numbers.
Lukashenko has been flying people in from Turkey and the Middle East. Every day, around 400 people land at the airport in Minsk. More than 600 planes from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have landed in Minsk since July. Belavia, the Belarusian state airline, operates most flights.
The European Commission has held intensive talks with around a dozen other airlines offering flights to Minsk. Turkish Airlines has agreed that it will no longer fly passengers from Iraq, Syria, or Yemen to Belarus.
A typical migrants’ journey to Belarus begins in Istanbul’s Aksaray district -- a meeting point for human traffickers. Belarusian visas cost up to $2,500 -- and the Turks, Syrians, Iraqis and Lebanese handle the business in local “travel agencies” in Istanbul. A flight from Istanbul to Minsk can cost as much as $1,000; the journey can cost a migrant family around $14,000.
Once the migrants reach Minsk, companies linked to Lukashenko’s presidential administration accommodate the refugees in hotels costing $20 or more per night for a bed.
Belarusian authorities organize the onward journey to the border, where troops cut through the fencing at night to allow migrants into Poland.
Once across the border, smugglers charge a further $2,000 per migrant for the journey to Germany.
- How Fake News on Facebook Helped Fuel a Border Crisis in Europe (New York Times)
- Germany: over 5,000 migrant arrivals from Belarus in October (Associated Press)
- New Details Shed Light on Lukashenko's Human Trafficking Network (Spiegel)
- Belavia to launch charter flights to Turkey on 1 July (BelTA )
- Belarus crisis: Airlines threatened with sanctions (DW)