The refugee crisis between the European Union and Belarus escalated last month as increasing numbers of refugees arrived trying to cross over into Poland.

Poland in recent months has seen a large number of refugees from the Middle East enter its eastern border from Belarus, which is also the European Union's eastern frontier.
Poland in recent months has seen a large number of refugees from the Middle East enter its eastern border from Belarus, which is also the European Union's eastern frontier. (AP)

More than 400 refugees who had traveled to Belarus seeking to cross the border into the EU flew home on Saturday on an Iraqi Airways plane bound for the city of Erbil in northern Iraq, Minsk's airport said.

The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday after accusations of flying in refugees, mostly from the Middle East, and pushing them to illegally cross the Polish border to manufacture a crisis, something Minsk denies.

Minsk airport authorities said in a statement a Boeing 747-400 would fly 415 adults and four children on Saturday to Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government.

The airport's website later listed the flight as having departed.

Iraqis who fled seeking economic opportunity and in some cases political asylum began returning to their country last month having failed to get into the EU via a route that people smugglers promised them would work.

Russia, which supported Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's government during mass street protests last year, on Saturday criticised the new EU sanctions as illegal, and said the issue should be settled through dialogue.

READ MORE: US, EU and allies hit Belarus with coordinated sanctions

EU tightens asylum rules at Belarus border

The European Union has proposed curtailing some rights of migrants at its borders with Belarus, including letting asylum seekers being held at border camps for up to four months and allowing for faster deportations.

The situation at the Belarus borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia is "unprecedented and that's why we are doing all these measures", Ylva Johansson, EU home affairs commissioner, told reporters on Wednesday.

The new proposals are the latest EU attempt to deal with what it describes as a crisis manufactured by Minsk. 

It accuses Belarus of flying in migrants from the Middle East and pushing them to cross through the woods into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Belarus calls the accusations absurd.

READ MORE: EU, NATO vow action against threats posed by Belarus, Russia

Source: Reuters