The murderous political game being played on the eastern border of the EU

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In practice, this prevents humanitarian organizations from helping refugees and journalists to document the situation and capture footage of border areas. In response, some NGOs have created a joint border group and are continuing their aid activity in the places surrounding the restricted border region.

It is the first time that a state of emergency has been declared in Poland since the end of socialism in 1989. According to the country’s constitution, the President of the Republic, at the request of the Council of Ministers, cannot announce it. “Only in a situation of particular danger, if the ordinary constitutional measures are inadequate”, or “in the event of threats against the constitutional order of the State, the security of citizens or public order”.

But is a state of emergency really necessary in this case? The Polish government says it is necessary to protect Poland’s security in the face of a Russian military exercise in Belarus scheduled for September, and to limit the influx of migrants.

The argument is that migrants considering crossing the border are part of Belarus’ “hybrid war” against the EU, in retaliation for sanctions imposed on the country last year. Poland joins Lithuania and Latvia in claiming that Belarus has deliberately encouraged migrants to transit through its territory en route to the EU, in order to fuel a border crisis. It is currently estimated that 10,000 migrants are trying to cross into the EU from Belarus.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell recently expressed his support for Poland, with Polish rulings indicating that EU foreign ministers “stand in solidarity with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland and we are ready to take all measures to support them if the situation continues to deteriorate. He added that the Lukashenko regime used “cynically” “migrants and refugees to artificially create pressure” on the EU’s eastern borders.

A political game?

The situation may be complex, but it’s hard to forget the group of human beings stuck in no man’s land. The unanswered question is: what will happen to them and when?

The state of emergency has complicated the situation and limited opportunities for these people to tell their stories, or for others to provide assistance. The reasoning of the Polish government for its use of emergency measures is not clear; as one commentator wrote, it “has not provided any compelling reason why other measures at its disposal are insufficient”.

Is the Polish government simply following the same strategy as Lithuania or Latvia to stop the influx of migrants, or does it have some other hidden goal? Some opposition figures see it as a cynical political game, aimed at winning votes. But while this may be part of an internal political conflict, polls show a diversity of attitudes towards events unfolding at the border.

According to a recent survey, 38.5% of the Polish population approve of the government’s decision to impose a state of emergency, while 30.1% disapprove and 31.4% have no opinion on the question. Another survey asked the Poles if they were okay with letting migrants and refugees in. Some 54% were against, while 38% were for. Asked specifically about the case of refugees stranded at the Polish-Belarusian border, 23% said that they should be immediately admitted to Poland and that asylum procedures should be initiated, while 46% believed that they should be given a humanitarian aid and 30% believed that any form of aid should be refused.

The restrictions caused by the state of emergency have made it difficult to access information on the current situation of those stranded at the border since August. But worsening weather conditions will be followed by more deaths if left unchecked.

The reality is that political conflicts, wars and climate change will lead to future waves of migration to Europe. The issue will be manipulated by right-wing and authoritarian populist leaders.

Finally, the EU must develop a strategy to respond to this situation and to future challenges. Although this is a new situation on the eastern border of the EU, we have observed similar situations for years on the Turkish-Greek border. But above all, rather than treating migrants and refugees as pawns in a “hybrid war”, it must see them as human beings seeking their right to security.


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