Poles dance to own tune on refugees

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The Independent Online
POLAND and Germany danced a pas de deux yesterday around the controversial question of how to restrict the number of asylum-seekers in Germany. Poland suggested that it would be willing to reach a new agreement. But it does not want to be stuck with those whom Germany sends back.

After long wrangling, Germany is set to pass an amendment to the constitution which will make its hitherto open borders somewhat less porous. The vote, which the opposition Social Democrats have reluctantly agreed to support, is provisionally set for three weeks' time. The new constitution would allow Germany to send back would-be refugees arriving via 'safe' third countries - including Poland and the Czech republic.

But Poland, like its central and east European neighbours, is worried it may be asked not only to staunch the flow of refugees, but also to take back some of those already settled. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, former Polish prime minister and now minister for European affairs, insisted: 'It is unacceptable for us to become a cordon sanitaire, a special zone for refugees, just so that the Germans can get rid of their problems.' '

After yesterday's talks in Bonn, Poland's deputy interior minister, Jerzy Zimowski, said that the two sides still had 'different concepts'. The talks are to continue in Warsaw in a fortnight.

Poland has suggested working on some form of regional initiative, in order to break the current deadlock. Many would-be refugees come from Romania; but Poland cannot send the Romanians back, because the Czechs and Slovaks, in their turn, refuse to accept the returnees. Putting the asylum-seekers on to planes back to their home countries is generally regarded as too expensive - although the Christian Democrat Prime Minister of Saxony, Kurt Biedenkopf, suggested in talks this week with the Polish Foreign Minister, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, that Germany should foot the bill for direct home-bound flights. This suggestion pleases the Poles, but is unlikely to get far in Bonn.

Last week, the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, was in Prague, where he also sought to persuade the Czechs, in effect, that they should help to carry Germany's burden. The Czechs were unenthusiastic.

The Czechs and the Poles are hampered by ambivalence - to put it mildly - on the question of open borders. They have constantly reiterated the need for the West to open up - politically, economically, and by removing visa restrictions. The Czechs, Poles and Hungarians would all like to see themselves as potential members of the European Community before too long.

At the same time, they have been keen to put a distance between themselves and poorer countries such as Bulgaria and Romania. Now, Poland is contemplating visa restrictions to stop Russians pouring in.