Belarus, Serbia waive transit formalities for stranded Europeans

Belarus is allowing EU citizens stranded by the airport closures after the Iceland volcano eruption to travel through its territory without the usual transit visa, an official said Saturday.

Travelling by train or road through ex-Soviet Belarus represents by far the quickest land route to and from western and central Europe and Russia but EU citizens are normally required to have obtained a transit visa beforehand.

"EU citizens who cannot travel from Russian airports due to the volcano eruption can go home through the territory of Belarus," Alexander Tishchenko, the spokesman for the Belarus border control committee told reporters.

"EU citizens with airline bookings or even expired air tickets are able to use the transit corridor. So far this has been used by more than 50 people," he added.

Thousands of people have been unable to take flights from Russia to western European countries after to the closure of airports due to the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano eruption.

The daily express train between Berlin and Moscow via Belarus takes a mere 28 hours to reach the Russian capital. The Warsaw train is less of an endurance test, taking just under 20 hours.

Belarus strongman President Alexander Lukashenko has in the last months sought warmer relations with the European Union but this has not so far led to abolishing visa requirements for EU citizens.

Serbia's interior minister also said in a statement quoted by the Beta news agency that police would accept simple identify cards for EU citizens travelling through the country.

"This humanitarian decision is aimed at allowing EU citizens to return home," it said, adding that the measure would remain in force until air traffic in Europe returns to normal.

EU citizens travelling within the bloc can use just their national identity cards instead of passports, but Serbia lies on the road between EU members Greece and Romania and other countries of the union.


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