In recent months, Belarus began offering easy tourist visas to Iraqis, Syrians and others from the Middle East and Africa. This meant they could now reach the edge of Europe on comfortable flights to Belarus, then try to sneak into Poland, Lithuania or Latvia, all EU members.

The United Arab Emirates has banned travelers from several Middle Eastern countries from boarding flights to Belarus, cutting off one of the last major air routes for would-be migrants to a nation on the European Union’s eastern border, AP reports.

The decision reported by travel agencies in Iraq Monday and the Belarus carrier appeared to be in response to diplomatic pressure to stem the tide of migrants that have made their way to Belarus, resulting in a humanitarian crisis with thousands of people stranded on the Belarus-Polish border in freezing weather. At least nine have died.

The development came as the European Union on Monday ratcheted up pressure on Belarus by agreeing to slap sanctions on airlines accused of helping President Alexander Lukashenko wage a “hybrid attack” against the bloc using migrants.

Thousands of people from around the Middle East, many of them Iraqis and Syrians, have been trying to cross into the EU this year through a backdoor opened by non-EU member Belarus.

In recent months, Belarus began offering easy tourist visas to Iraqis, Syrians and others from the Middle East and Africa. This meant they could now reach the edge of Europe on comfortable flights to Belarus, then try to sneak into Poland, Lithuania or Latvia, all EU members.

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