WARSAW – The imposition of a state of emergency by the Polish government on the border with Belarus on Monday became a political flash point, with the opposition accused of trying to prevent the media from reporting on how troops and border guards respond to migrants trying to cross the border. border.
The government says the state of emergency, the first such measure since the communist regime’s martial law decree in 1981, is necessary to detain migrants, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, who enter illegally from Belarus. Despite not having a solid majority in parliament, the government gained the backing of a majority of MPs after a stormy debate, with 168 MPs voting to rescind the measure while 247 Backed government.
Although the legal reasons for the decree only mention migrants, whom Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko encourages to cross the border, the government also says there is a danger from the Zapad joint military exercises being carried out by Russia and Belarus from Friday.
“We can clearly see that in Moscow and Minsk scenarios have been written that threaten the sovereignty and security of the Polish state,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. said in parliament.
Although Zapad exercises have been conducted regularly in the past (in 2009 they even simulated a nuclear attack in Warsaw), the government says this year’s exercises are more concerning.
“The threat level right now may be the highest since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Paweł Soloch, head of the president’s national security office. “We see a correlation between the migration crisis and the Zapad exercises.”
Lukashenko is being accused of encouraging migrants, brought to Minsk from the Middle East, to cross into the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed after last year’s controversial presidential elections and the subsequent brutal crackdown on protests. Belarus has denied these allegations. Migrants have been intercepted in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and all three countries have imposed special measures to control the problem.
“Our services have identified 46 planes from Baghdad to Minsk … that’s around 10,000 Iraqi residents,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said, calling for preventive measures to avoid a “major migration crisis.” Some 3,500 people they tried to cross Poland’s 418-kilometer border with Belarus last month.
The opposition accused the government of turning the border problem 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, a former defense minister and deputy for the opposition Civic Platform party.
Although the government is sounding the alarm at home, it is not doing the same abroad. It has not asked for help from Frontex, the EU’s border agency, which is based in Warsaw. Frontex has been helping Lithuania cope with its border problems since the end of July, where Poland has also provided helicopters and patrols.
Kamiński said that 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 bureau at Polityka Insight, a think tank in Warsaw. “But sadly, there could also be a political reason: the Polish government may not want the European institutions to monitor it.”
The border crisis is the most important story in Poland, one that attracted human rights groups, opposition parliamentarians and subjected the Polish government to intensive scrutiny on how people are treated and criticism from European organizations and activists for their refusal to accept asylum applications from many migrants. . Last month, the European Court of Human Rights told Poland to provide aid to migrants at the border.
Siemoniak called the restrictions on media activity in the 3-kilometer-wide border zone “unprecedented and absurd.”
But banning outsiders from the area means there will be less chance of any “provocative” activity by foreign agents, and that could alleviate some of the pressure from the military and police operating in the area. “They don’t need to look around and can concentrate on looking east,” Świerczyński said.
While human rights groups call for help for people trapped at the border, many Poles have qualms about opening the country to large numbers of outsiders.
Donald Tusk, the leader of the Civic Platform, has been quite careful in the way he deals with the issue, criticizing the government for not helping 32 migrants trapped on the Belarusian-Polish border, but also saying, “We have to guarantee the security of our borders.”
The border crisis has diverted attention from PiS’s recent streak of political troubles and has helped boost support for the nationalist party in recent opinion polls.