Poland Extends Border Fence Against Migrants From Belarus
(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s government vowed to protect its territory from Afghan migrants arriving across the border with Belarus by extending a barbed-wire barrier along the frontier and fortifying it with more troops.
With European Union nations fretting that the Taliban’s unexpected surge to power in Afghanistan will trigger a new migrant crisis, the bloc’s members bordering Belarus are locked in a standoff with that country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, who’s threatened to send refugees their way in retaliation to sanctions against his government.
After a record 2,100 people tried to illegally enter Poland from Belarus this month, the government in Warsaw sent about 1,000 soldiers to the frontier on Wednesday and confirmed plans to complete a 150-kilometer (93-mile) barbed-wire fence across the forested, difficult-to-monitor border.
“We can’t allow these people entry, as soon we could have tens of thousands trying to do this,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters Thursday. “We must defend the sovereignty of our territory.”
The border situation is also stirring up Polish politics, with opposition leader Donald Tusk calling out the government’s harsh rhetoric and largely antagonistic stance during the EU’s previous migrant crises, which could now backfire as Belarus takes a bigger role in relocating Asians into the bloc.
“Talk that Poland will defend itself” is “shameful,” Tusk said Wednesday. “It’s as if these poor folks declared war on us. They’re looking for their place on earth. There’s no need for such disgusting, gloomy propaganda against migrants. These people need help.”
Two thirds of the undocumented arrivals this month were sent back to the former Soviet republic, according to Poland’s Interior Ministry. Belarus had previously directed migrants into the EU across its border with Lithuania.
Near the Polish village of Usnarz Gorny, several dozen Asian migrants, including children, have been stuck in no-man’s-land between Poland and Belarus for about a week, with few supplies and no shelter. Polish border guards have provided them with food and water but blocked the would-be refugees’ entry, while Belarus soldiers are patrolling the forests behind them and preventing them from returning.
The Polish government, which defied most of its EU partners in refusing to take in refugees during the migrant crisis triggered by unrest in the Middle East and North Africa last decade, is now pledging to keep the Afghans out as well.
Some 758 illegal migrants were detained by Polish authorities this month -- more than in the first seven months of 2021 combined. They were placed in refugee camps, and 380 were deported after security checks.
In May, Lukashenko said he would retaliate against EU sanctions and efforts by Poland and Lithuania to help his pro-democratic political rivals, who fled a post-election crackdown last year. He threatened to allow drugs, radioactive material and illegal migrants to flow into the EU unhindered, saying Belarus won’t prevent people from countries “abused by the West” from crossing into the bloc.
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