WARSAW – The Polish government’s imposition of a state of emergency on the border with Belarus turned into a political flashpoint on Monday, with the opposition accusing it of trying to block the media from report on how troops and border guards respond to migrants attempting to cross the border. frontier.
The government has said a state of emergency – the first such measure since the Communist regime’s martial law decree in 1981 – is necessary to prevent migrants, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, from entering illegally. from Belarus. Although it does not have a solid majority in parliament, the government won the support of most MPs after a heated debate, with 168 MPs voting to repeal the measure while 247 supported the government.
Although the legal grounds for the decree only mention migrants – who are encouraged to cross the border by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko – the government also claims that there is a danger associated with the joint Zapad military exercises carried out by Russia and the United States. Belarus from Friday.
“We can clearly see that scenarios threatening the sovereignty and security of the Polish state have been written in Moscow and Minsk,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party told parliament.
Although Zapad exercises have been held regularly in the past – in 2009 they even simulated a nuclear attack on Warsaw – the government says this year’s maneuvers are of more concern.
“The current threat level is perhaps the highest since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Paweł Soloch, head of the presidential national security office. “We see a correlation between the migration crisis and the Zapad exercises. “
Lukashenko is accused of encouraging migrants, flown to Minsk from the Middle East, to enter the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed after last year’s disputed presidential election and the brutal crackdown on protests that followed. Belarus has denied these allegations. Migrants have been intercepted in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and the three countries have imposed special measures to bring the problem under control.
“Our services have identified 46 planes from Baghdad to Minsk … or around 10,000 residents of Iraq,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said, calling for preventive measures to avoid a “great migration crisis”. Some 3,500 people attempted to cross the 418-kilometer Polish border with Belarus last month.
The opposition accused the government of turning the border issue into an existential crisis for political gain.
“There is no justification for the state of emergency on the basis of constitutional conditions,” argued Tomasz Siemoniak, former defense minister and member of the opposition Civic Platform party.
While the government is sounding the alarm at home, it is not doing the same abroad. He did not seek help from Frontex, the EU’s border agency, headquartered in Warsaw. Frontex has been helping Lithuania cope with its border problems since the end of July, when Poland also provided a helicopter and patrol units.
Kamiński said the opposition’s suggestion to get EU aid was “an expression of [its] incompetence.”
Polish border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said: “If we need help from Frontex, we will certainly ask for it. “
“Poland has no shortage of personnel and is well equipped to defend its border on its own,” said Marek Świerczyński, head of the security office of Polityka Insight, a think tank in Warsaw. “But unfortunately there could be a political reason too – the Polish government may not want the EU institutions to watch its hands.”
The border crisis is the biggest story in Poland – one that has drawn human rights groups, opposition MPs and subjected the Polish government to scrutiny over how people are treated and criticism from European organizations and activists for refusing to accept asylum requests from many migrants. . Last month, the European Court of Human Rights called on Poland to provide assistance to migrants at the border.
Siemoniak called restrictions on media activity in the 3-kilometer-wide border area “unprecedented and absurd”.
But preventing foreigners from entering the area means there will be less risk of “provocative” activity by foreign agents, which could alleviate some of the pressure on the military and police operating. In the region. “They don’t need to look around and can focus on their gaze to the east,” said wierczyński.
As human rights groups call for help for those stranded at the border, many Poles are reluctant to open the country to large numbers of foreigners.
Donald Tusk, the leader of the Civic Platform, has been very cautious in the way he deals with the issue – criticizing the government for not helping 32 migrants stranded at the Belarus-Poland border, but also saying, “We have to keep our boundaries safe. “
The border crisis has distracted attention from the recent spate of PiS political unrest and has helped bolster support for the Nationalist Party in recent opinion polls.