Belarusian flag-carrier Belavia has failed to convince the European General Court to lift restrictions on the carrier, imposed after the airline was accused of aiding illegal migration to the EU for political purposes.

State-owned Belavia was sanctioned over concerns that it was supporting efforts in 2021 by president Alexander Lukashenko’s regime to undermine the EU, by transporting migrants from the Middle East to Minsk and facilitating illegal border crossings.

Belavia had argued to the court that the restrictions should be annulled, alleging a “manifest error of assessment” by the Council of the European Union as well as a failure by the Council to meet the required standard of proof.

The Council had disputed Belavia’s objections. It argued that Belavia had opened new routes and expanded capacity to carry would-be illegal migrants – particularly from Lebanon, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates – and that local tour operators had served as intermediaries to help Belavia “keep a low profile”.

Belavia Embraer-c-Belavia

Source: Belavia

State-owned Belavia was accused of using illegal EU migration to support the Lukashenko regime

Belavia claimed that other carriers were transporting people from Turkey and the Middle East to Belarus in 2021, and that it was operating aircraft with lower capacity than those of the other airlines.

“None of those arguments can succeed,” the General Court ruled on 29 May, pointing out that the claims “do not show” that Belavia “did not contribute” to the activities of the Lukashenko regime.

It also notes that – according to Belavia’s own data – the number of passengers Belavia transported on the Istanbul-Minsk and Beirut-Minsk routes “increased substantially” between May and October 2021.

Belavia claimed it did not receive any instructions from the Belarusian government ordering it to operate flights to facilitate illegal EU migration.

But the court points out that the Council did not rely on statements of such instructions, or even whether the flights were profitable.

The court adds that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, Belavia’s state ownership “renders implausible” any argument that its activities “could be determined irrespective of the [Belarusian] government’s wishes”.

“It is apparent from the evidence in the file that the Lukashenko regime organised the transport of third-country nationals to Belarus by air, not by chartering flights but by supporting the issuing of visas for Belarus,” it says, with the result that demand for flights to Belarus increased.

The court states that the Council “did not make an error of assessment” in finding that Lukashenko promised all possible support to Belavia after carrier was banned from EU airspace.

Belavia’s application for annulment “must be dismissed as unfounded”, it rules.