Poland: Lawmakers endorse restricting access to border areas

Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland – Poland’s lawmakers approved new regulations Tuesday that authorize the government to declare areas along the nation’s borders off-limits to everyone except residents and people who live, work or study in the designated no-access zones.

In adopting the amendments to the law on Poland’s 3,511 kilometers (2,200 miles) of borders, the lower house of parliament, or Sejm, also rejected changes proposed in the Senate, including one that would have allowed journalists free access in the restricted areas.

Migrants settle in the logistics center in the checkpoint "Bruzgi" at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

The law was updated in an urgent procedure amid a conflict between Poland and neighboring Belarus. Poland’s government and the European Union have accused authorities in Belarus of directing thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East to Poland’s eastern border, which is also the EU’s eastern border.

A state of emergency introduced along the Poland-Belarus border in September expires on Thursday. The regulations approved Tuesday are intended to replace it and provide a measure for a long-term access ban.

A migrant gets his hair sprayed with a product to prevent hair lice, in the logistics center in the checkpoint "Bruzgi" at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

Members of Poland’s right-wing governing coalition dominate the Sejm, which voted to give the interior minister the power to designate 15-kilometer (9-mile) wide no-access strips for security reasons on recommendation from the head of the national Border Guard agency.

The chief of the Border Guard would have authority to grant selected journalists access to the no-go zones for a limited time.

Senators wanted journalists allowed into the area along the border with Belarus so they could report firsthand on the situation there and verify or dispute the accounts from Belarus, which allows reporters on its side of the border.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, center, speaks to people at a logistics center at the checkpoint "Bruzgi" at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021.

The Polish government argues that banning most individuals from border areas would help guards perform their jobs better, especially as Europe-bound refugees and migrants attempt to enter Poland illegally during the current standoff with Belarus.

The Interior Ministry said the no-access designation also would facilitate construction, scheduled to start in early December, of a 5.5 -meter-tall (18-foot-tall) barrier on the border with Belarus.

Some law experts described the amendments as anti-democratic because they allow the interior minister to act without seeking parliamentary approval.

The new regulations need President Andrzej Duda’s approval to take effect. Duda has suggested he will grant it.