Polish lawmakers uphold state of emergency at Belarus border

International

Polish security forces surround migrants stuck along with border with Belarus in Usnarz Gorny, Poland, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Poland has been reinforcing its border with Belarus – also part of the EU’s eastern border – after thousands of migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere tried to illegally enter the country. The Polish government says it is the target of a “hybrid war” waged by authoritarian Belarus. Human rights activists are concerned about a group caught along the border, trapped between armed guards on each side. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s parliament voted Monday to uphold the state of emergency along the border with Belarus that was declared last week amid migration pressure.

The vote came after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told lawmakers that the country faces a threat from Russia and Belarus as he sought support for the state of emergency, which was declared last week by President Andrzej Duda — a step unprecedented in the country’s post-communist history.

Morawiecki told the parliament that the defense of the Polish borders is the responsibility of the state, and that “in Moscow and Minsk scenarios are being written” that threaten Poland’s security and sovereignty.

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia — the three European Union nations that border Belarus — accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of pushing migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere into their countries illegally. They call it an act of “hybrid war” against their countries in revenge for EU sanctions.

Morawiecki and other officials have defended the state of emergency also by noting that Moscow will begin large military exercises in Russia and Belarus later this month.

The state of emergency allows the authorities to prevent journalists and other civilians from operating within 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) from the border with Belarus. Some lawmakers accused the government of using it to limit the rights of journalists to work, and citizens the right to obtain information, from the border.

Tomasz Siemoniak, deputy leader of the main opposition party, Civic Platform, said there was no doubt that Poland has external opponents seeking to weaken it, a threat he said should never be taken lightly. But the former defense minister argued there was no justification for the state of emergency now. He accused the ruling authorities of using it to distract from rising prices, scandals and problems in the health system.

Morawiecki said at an earlier news conference that migrants trying to enter into Poland illegally from Belarus are being provided with food and money by the Belarusian security services.

While thousands of migrants have been pushed back or put in closed centers for immigrants, the main focus for weeks has been around 30 people stranded on the Poland-Belarus border.

The International Organization for Migration in Geneva said it is deeply concerned about the “dire conditions” they are in, saying they are facing “extremely harsh conditions, with limited access to drinking water and food, medical assistance, sanitation facilities and shelter.”

“Prolonging this unacceptable situation poses a grievous threat to the migrants’ lives and health,” the IOM said.

Polish officials pushed back strongly against the view that the migrants are victims deprived of humanitarian aid. In Warsaw, the Polish authorities released images which they said showed Belarusian security forces providing the migrants with food, clothes and transport by car. Some appeared to show officials from the Belarus Red Cross, which visited them last week.

Blazej Pobozy, a deputy interior minister, said it was a “false narrative” to view the people at the border as “poor, hungry refugees who do not get help from anywhere.”

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said most who crossed into Poland illegally are Iraqis who traveled by plane from Baghdad to Minsk. He said there was also a group of Afghans who have lived for years in Russia and were now offered access to the EU.

The fate of the group has raised concerns among some in Poland who accuse the government of being inhumane. Poland has deployed soldiers to the border, reinforced it with razor wire and refused to let the group apply for asylum.

With Russia beginning military exercises this month, Morawiecki said “we have not had such a tense situation for 30 years.”

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