Polish government calls for “state of emergency” in response to influx of migrants from Belarus
The Polish government has officially asked President Andrzej Duda to declare a state of emergency along parts of its border with Belarus amid an influx of migrants which Warsaw and its European partners say is being encouraged and facilitated by the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk.
“We must stop these aggressive hybrid actions, which are carried out according to a script written in Minsk and at the hands of Mr. Lukashenka’s protectors,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a press conference in Warsaw on August 31.
Duda, a close ally of the ruling Nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS), is likely to approve the 30-day measure, which would also cover parts of the Podlaskie and Lubelskie regions.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski, speaking alongside Morawiecki, said a state of emergency would have little effect on the local population but would impose limits on foreigners in a 3 kilometer strip next to the border.
Last week, Poland started building a barbed wire border fence in an attempt to curb the flow of migrants from Belarusian territory, most of whom come from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Crisis in Belarus
Read our current coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media in a brutal crackdown on protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely seen as fraudulent.
Relations between the West and Belarus have collapsed since August 2020, when Lukashenka claimed victory in an election that his opponents and Western countries say was rigged to give him a sixth presidential term.
The vote sparked an unprecedented wave of protests across Belarus and a violent crackdown by the authorities.
The West refuses to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate ruler of Belarus and has imposed sanctions on him, along with his relatives and the businesses linked to him.
Brussels accused Lukashenka of deliberately encouraging illegal migrants to enter Poland, Latvia and Lithuania in a form of “hybrid war”.
“The Lukashenka regime decided to push these people into Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian territory in order to destabilize them,” Morawiecki said.
Poland also sees Belarus’s behavior as retaliation for Warsaw’s decision to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home after the Tokyo Olympics after officials allegedly tried to punish her for having criticized his coaches on social networks.
More than 30 migrants have been stranded at the border for more than three weeks between armed Belarusian guards on one side and Polish armed forces on the other.
Poland insists that the group is on Belarusian soil and will not allow migrants to approach Polish territory or seek asylum. Activists say there are 32 people from Afghanistan, many of whom are now ill.
Marianna Wartecka of refugee rights group Fundacja Ocalenie said eight of the migrants had kidney problems and five suffered from upset stomachs. The sickest person in the group is a 52-year-old woman who traveled from Afghanistan with her five mostly adult children, Wartecka said.
Over the weekend, 13 people from another activist group, Obywatele RP (Citizens of Poland), were arrested for trying to cut a new barbed wire fence at the border in protest against what they had called the “inhuman” behavior of the Polish authorities. .
Kaminski called the activists’ behavior “scandalous”.
Lithuania was the first country bordering Belarus to record a sharp increase in the number of migrants arriving illegally from Belarus in July.
It came after Lukashenka vowed to release “migrants and drugs” after the EU instituted the latest, and arguably the toughest, round of sanctions against him and his government.
These Western sanctions came after the Lukashenka government forced a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to divert to Minsk on May 23, citing what is widely viewed as a bogus bomb threat, and arrested the blogger and Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega.
Lithuania has been a staunch supporter of Lukashenka’s democratic opponents, providing shelter to many fleeing Belarusians, including opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Latvia, which also borders Belarus, declared a state of emergency earlier this month after witnessing an increase in illegal migrant crossings.
With reports from AP, Reuters and AFP