WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s prime minister told parliament Monday that the country faces a threat from Russia and Belarus as he sought support for a state of emergency declared in areas along the border with Belarus last week amid migration pressure.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke in parliament before lawmakers were due to vote on whether to approve the state of emergency that was declared last week by the president — 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 “today we see that in Moscow and Minsk scenarios are being written that threaten Poland’s 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 government officials have defended the state of emergency also by noting that Moscow will begin large military exercises in Russia and Belarus later this month, something they say brings the risk of provocations along the border.
The state of emergency allows the authorities to prevent journalists and other civilians from operating in an area three kilometers (nearly two 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 that should never be taken lightly. But the former defense minister argued that 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 a news conference earlier in the day that migrants trying to enter into EU member Poland illegally from Belarus are being provided with food and money by the Belarusian security services, depicting them as actors in an illegal smuggling operation.
While thousands of migrants have been pushed back or put in closed centers for immigrants, the main focus for weeks has been a group of around 30 people who have been stranded on the Poland-Belarus border.
The International Organization for Migration in Geneva said it is deeply concerned by 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. It also emphasized that “migrants should not be instrumentalized.”
Polish officials pushed back strongly against the view of the migrants as victims who are 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 the people 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 that most of the people who crossed into Poland illegally are Iraqis who traveled by plane from Baghdad to Minsk. He said there is also a group of Afghans who have lived for many years in Russia, and who were now offered access to the EU.
The fate of the group has raised concerns also in Poland among some who accuse the government response of being inhumane. The government actions have included deploying soldiers to the border, reinforcing it with razor wire and refusing to let the group apply for asylum.
With Russia to begin military exercises later this month, Morawiecki declared that “we have not had such a tense situation for 30 years.”
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