Tensions remain high at the Polish-Belarus border, with soldiers detaining about 100 migrants who illegally crossed into the European Union country, while hundreds of others checked in for a flight back home to Iraq.
The Polish Army accused Minsk of leading the surge of dozens of migrants over the border in the early hours of November 18, part of a group of thousands from the Middle East who have been massing near the Polish-Belarusian frontier, braving freezing temperatures and squalid conditions in hopes of crossing into the European Union.
The Defense Ministry in Warsaw said Belarusian forces carried out reconnaissance and then allegedly damaged a border fence.
"Then the Belarusians forced the migrants to throw stones at Polish soldiers to distract them. The attempt to cross the border took place several hundred meters away," the ministry added.
WATCH: With temperatures dropping, some migrants who had camped out by the border have now moved to a temporary shelter in Belarus where they await potential deportation.
The breach of the border came hours before a couple hundred migrants prepared for the journey back home, according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.
The ministry said the group consisting mainly of Iraqi Kurds had checked in and were set to board a flight from the Belarusian capital at 1:45 p.m. local time. The plane is scheduled to stop first in Irbil, a city in Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdistan region, before flying on to Baghdad.
Brussels has accused Belarus's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, of instigating the migrant crisis as retaliation for several rounds of EU sanctions against his government for its repression of peaceful protesters.
Iraqis, especially Kurds, comprise a large portion of the thousands of migrants estimated to have poured into Belarus as they look for a way into the EU. At least eight people have died at the border since the crisis broke out in the summer, including a 19-year-old Syrian man who drowned in a river trying to cross the border.
Poland warned on November 17 that the crisis could last for months or even years, a day after its military forces used tear gas and water cannons to deter stone-throwing migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Lukashenka on November 17 about the European Union providing humanitarian aid to the migrants and helping them return home.
The call, the second in less than a week, sparked controversy in some quarters.
Until Merkel's calls, the EU had refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus or have any contact with him following an allegedly rigged presidential election in August 2020 that sparked a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters.
Belarusian carrier Belavia said in a statement on November 18 that in agreement with Uzbekistan, citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya and Syria "will not be accepted for transportation on Belavia flights from Tashkent to Minsk."