Migrant-Wary Poland Calls State of Emergency Near Belarus Border
(Bloomberg) -- Poland declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus to stem a surge in the number of migrants trying to enter the European Union from the East.
President Andrzej Duda’s decision on Thursday will for 30 days curb civil liberties, including press coverage, within a band of about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the border. Poland, along with the Baltic Sea nations of Lithuania and Latvia, are locked in a standoff against Belarus, which the EU accused of using asylum seekers as a weapon to destabilize the bloc.
“We are under attack by a hostile regime and our security as a nation is threatened,” Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski told reporters. “We won’t allow Poland to become a place where migrants are being shipped illegally.”
States of emergency have already been announced in Lithuania and Latvia, countries which, like Poland, are building fences to seal their borders with Belarus.
Undocumented arrivals from Belarus -- mainly migrants from Iraq and Afghanistan -- have grown since Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said in May he would retaliate against EU sanctions. Poland and Lithuania have spearheaded efforts to help his pro-democratic political rivals, who fled amid last year’s brutal police crackdown in the wake of a disputed election. The countries have denounced the tactic as a “hybrid attack” and appealed to the United Nations for help.
Kaminski also said the decision to call the state of emergence was also motivated by joint military exercises that Belarus and Russia will start on Sept. 10.
Near the border village of Usnarz Gorny, the standoff has trapped several dozen migrants -- with little supplies and no shelter -- just meters away from Polish soil, according to the government in Warsaw. Polish troops prevent the group from advancing into the EU while Belarussian soldiers block their retreat.
The migrants’ plight has divided the nation, with some saying the government is risking their lives. Opposition forces have called the state of emergency a ploy by the ruling Law & Justice party to help boost its flagging popularity.
Pending parliament’s approval, the state of emergency will last 30 days and give the government the right to ban public gatherings, limits access to information and bar travel by outsiders. Journalists and activists will be kicked out by midnight.
“For me it is obvious that imposing the state of emergency is indeed about setting a barrier for the media and the public so no one knows what is happening at the border,” said Wojciech Hermelinski, retired Justice of the Constitutional Tribunal.
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