Poland declares state of emergency on Belarus border

Poland has accused Belarus of waging ‘hybrid warfare’ by shepherding migrants to its border

William Nattrass
Thursday 02 September 2021 21:47
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<p>Polish security forces surround migrants stuck along with border with Belarus in Usnarz Gorny, Poland</p>

Polish security forces surround migrants stuck along with border with Belarus in Usnarz Gorny, Poland

Polish president Andrzej Duda has signed a government proposal to initiate a state of emergency at the country’s border with Belarus to combat a wave of illegal immigration.

Poland accuses Belarus of waging “hybrid warfare” against its EU neighbours by shepherding migrants from the Middle East towards its borders with Schengen Zone countries Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said a state of emergency is needed to seal the Polish border in response to the actions of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

“The situation is still a crisis, due to the fact that the Lukashenko regime decided to push people – mostly from Iraq – into the territories of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, in order to introduce a destabilising element into our countries,” said Morawiecki.

The state of emergency in an area 3 kilometres deep by the Belarusian border will see a list of activities restricted, including public gatherings and excursions near the border.

Barbed wire has become a new symbol of Poland

Statement by a group of 32 Afghan migrants

A state of emergency has not existed in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989. And although the government points out that Lithuania and Latvia have already introduced similar measures, the step is being seen by many as further evidence of Poland’s unsympathetic attitude towards refugees.

A moral drama unfolding at Poland’s Usnarz Gorny has seen a group of 32 Afghan migrants camped in no man’s land between Polish and Belarusian border guards for weeks on end. Lawyers representing the group described their conditions to The Independent as “extremely inhumane”, and their story has become a national scandal.

Polish opposition MP Franek Sterczewski made headlines by attempting to run past border guards to take supplies to the group, while this week border guards detained 13 people trying to destroy the barbed wire fence keeping the migrants out.

“Barbed wire has become a new symbol of Poland,” the group said in a statement to the press.

Polish society is anti-immigrant, so the government will make an effort to maintain this spectacle on the border as long as possible, exploiting the topic to scare people and distract the media from scandals related to the government

Renata Mienkowska, political scientist at University of Warsaw

Polish border police say over 3,200 people attempted to enter the country from Belarus illegally in August alone. Most of these were migrants from war-torn countries in the Middle East, duped by the Belarusian regime into believing the country’s EU borders are an open gateway to the Schengen Area.

Experts note that the migrant crisis plays into the conservative government’s hands.

“The situation on the Polish border is a gift from God for the Polish government,” Renata Mieńkowska, a political scientist from the University of Warsaw, told The Independent.

“Polish society is anti-immigrant, so the government will make an effort to maintain this spectacle on the border as long as possible, exploiting the topic to scare people and distract the media from scandals related to the government,” she added.

Polish soldiers construct a barbed wire fence on the border with Belarus in Zubrzyca Wielka near Bialystok, eastern Poland, on 26 August 2021

Indeed, polls have shown a boost in support for the ruling PiS party since the migration crisis began.

Opposition parties have railed against the government’s state of emergency, though, describing the step as unjustified, unhelpful and dubious from a constitutional viewpoint.

“By taking this step, the Polish government is actually fulfilling the expectations of Lukashenko, who wants to destabilise the EU’s eastern border and split up EU unity,” said Renata Mieńkowska.

Perceptions were not helped by interior minister Mariusz Kaminski mistakenly referring to a state of “martial law” in the affected border regions multiple times during a government press conference on Tuesday. 

Reponses to the state of emergency illustrate the febrile nature of the debate over illegal immigration in Poland. The government may not want to bow to the actions of Lukashenko’s regime – but others do not want barbed wire and humanitarian disaster to become symbolic of the country’s response to those seeking a better life. 

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