• The Council of the EU has given its final approval to the Pact on Migration and Asylum despite strong opposition from a small number of member states, including Poland.
  • Poland has joined a group of member states that has asked the European Commission to propose ‘new ways and solutions’ to prevent irregular migration to Europe.
  • Prime Minister Donald Tusk has announced that Poland would start work on strengthening its eastern border in the face of what he described as a ‘progressing hybrid war’ in ‘illegal immigration’ from Belarus.
  • Five people who provided humanitarian aid to a family from Iraq and an Egyptian citizen on the Poland-Belarus border have been charged with ‘facilitating unlawful stay in the territory of the Republic of Poland’.

On 14 May, the Council of the EU voted to give its final approval to the Pact on Migration and Asylum despite opposition from some member states. According to Euronews, Poland and Hungary both voted against all of the legislative files while Czechia and Slovakia abstained in the votes on the majority of them, and Austria voted against the Crisis Regulation. Despite this opposition, the Pact was formally adopted by a qualified majority and EU member states will have two years to implement the new laws. Following the Council vote, Prime Minister Donald Tusk declared that it would not result in Poland accepting any migrants. “We will not pay for anything, we will not have to accept any migrants coming from other directions, and the European Union will not impose any migrant quotas on us,” he said. Tusk also highlighted that Poland was currently hosting “hundreds of thousands of migrants in connection with the Russian-Ukrainian war” and “tens of thousands of migrants from Belarus”, and stated that it would “effectively enforce financial support from the EU”, claiming that Poland would be a “beneficiary” of the Pact.

Poland was one of 15 EU member states that recently asked the European Commission (EC) to “identify, elaborate and propose new ways and solutions to prevent irregular migration to Europe”. Together with his counterparts from Austria, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands and Romania, Polish Minister of the Interior and Administration Tomasz Siemoniak was a signatory on a joint letter that was sent to European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson on 15 May and which called for, inter alia, the establishment of “comprehensive, mutually beneficial and durable partnerships with key partners countries along the migratory routes”. The 15 co-signatories cited the EU’s migrations agreements with Tunisia and Türkiye as possible “models” in this area. They also cited Italy’s agreement with Albania as a possible model for “place of safety arrangements and transit mechanisms”. In addition, they asked the EC to consider the “potential need for changes to the Return Directive” and to present a “proposal to designate countries as safe third countries at EU level”.

On 11 May, Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that Poland would start work on strengthening its eastern border as the country faced what he described as a “progressing hybrid war” in “illegal immigration” from Belarus. During a visit to the village of Karakule close to the Poland-Belarus border, Tusk did not provide any details about the plans or the expected costs involved but stated that there would be “no limit of funds when it comes to the security of Poland”. He also said that the work would take place along the “entire eastern border” so could potentially also affect Poland’s borders with Russia (Kalingrad) and Ukraine. The previous government reportedly spent more than € 300 million in 2021-22 on the construction of a 5.5 metre-high fence which stretched for more than 180 kilometres along the Poland-Belarus border. However, serious doubts about the effectiveness of the border wall have been raised in recent months. Tusk’s recent announcement was criticised by some civil society organisations that work with migrants in eastern Poland. Speaking in an online news conference on 13 May, Anna Alboth from the NGO Grupa Granica decried the fact that Tusk had made no mention of the people whose attempts to cross the border irregularly he partially blamed on the Belarusian government. “During the press conference, he didn’t mention people or human lives at all,” she said. ECRE member organisation the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights used the opportunity to appeal for the “restoration of the rule of law” on the Poland-Belarus border. In a statement posted on its website, the organisation reminded the Polish Border Guard about the illegality of “returning foreigners to the border line” and that the “border wall does not stand on the border” – a reference to the thin strip of Polish territory that runs along the length of the wall on the Belarusian side. It wrote that it had “called on the Commander [of the Podlaskie branch of the Polish Border Guard] to take action to restore the rule of law and prevent violations of the law when Border Guard officers perform activities against foreigners crossing the border between Belarus and Poland”.

According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, five people who provided humanitarian aid to “a family from Iraq and an Egyptian citizen” on the Poland-Belarus border have been charged with “facilitating unlawful stay in the territory of the Republic of Poland”, an offence which is punishable by up to five years imprisonment. The five were initially arrested in March 2022 and charged with “organising illegal crossing of the Polish-Belarussian border” but after two years of proceedings, the prosecutor’s office in Hajnówka changed the content of the charges. As a result, one person has been accused of providing people who crossed the border with “food and clothes” and “information useful in the event of their arrest by Polish law enforcement authorities” while the other four are accused of “transporting  members of a migrating family into the country”. Commenting on their case, one of the accused said: “The Polish state is now chasing me for this and I have the impression that we are all scapegoats here while the state services have already spent billions on supposed border protection but have not been able to break up smuggling rings or solve the humanitarian crisis”. Another said: “Our case is part of a broader policy aimed at deterring those who decide to fight for a decent life through migration and those who provide them with humanitarian aid. In Poland, as in other European countries, supporting people on the move is criminalised”.

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