GRODNO, Belarus: Migrant children play with snow outside the transport and logistics centre near the Bruzgi border point on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region yesterday. - AFP

MOSCOW: Authorities in Belarus said yesterday that a group of 118 migrants who had hoped to reach the European Union via Poland were flown out of the country. It was the latest sign of de-escalation in a crisis that saw several thousand migrants-mainly from the Middle East-stuck on the border between Poland and Belarus. "Yesterday, 118 people left from Minsk national airport," Alexei Begun, the head of the migration department at Belarus's interior ministry, told state news agency Belta. He said another group of migrants was due to fly out of Belarus later.

He did not say where they were headed, but said the embassies of several countries-including Syria and Iraq-were organising repatriation flights for their citizens who "have found themselves in a difficult situation." Western leaders have accused Belarus's strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko of causing the crisis by luring migrants to his country to send across the border into the EU in retaliation for sanctions.

The migrants set up a camp on the frontier after Polish forces deployed to prevent crossings, and Belarusian authorities eventually moved them to a logistics centre near the Bruzgi border checkpoint. A first group of 431 people was flown back to Iraq from Belarus on a repatriation flight last week.

Begun said authorities were "assisting" migrants who wish to go home with their paperwork. He said Minsk was working with the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on getting migrants out of the border zone.

Representatives of the organisations were on a visit to the country, he said, meeting with state authorities to "work on joint steps to resolve the migrant crisis". Representatives of the European Commission were also visiting the logistics centre, Belta reported. On Monday, Lukashenko said more repatriation flights were being prepared. "They want to go back to Iraq, Syria-you see, we organised a flight," he said, according to Belta. "We are preparing another flight for the end of the month, if we gather these people," he said. Aid groups say at least 11 migrants have died since a surge in attempts to cross the border began this summer. - AFP