State of emergency expired: Poland continues to restrict access to border area

Status: 01.12.2021 09:29 a.m.

The state of emergency imposed by Poland expired at midnight and cannot be extended. Shortly before, however, a law was passed that further restricts access to the border area with Belarus.

Poland continues to restrict access to the border area with Belarus. A regulation signed by President Andrzej Duda allows the government to block access to certain parts of the three-kilometer-wide border region depending on the location. This makes it possible to temporarily restrict freedom of movement and the freedom of the press in the border area, even though the controversial state of emergency officially expired at midnight. The new law is now supposed to replace him.

Poland’s parliament approved the law to protect the border on Tuesday evening. For the time being, only residents and people who work or study there are allowed to enter the zone. Journalists need permission from the border guards to report from the area. The background to this is the ongoing crisis involving thousands of migrants on Poland’s border with the former Soviet republic.

A clear majority of MPs in Warsaw voted in favor of the changes made by the national-conservative ruling party PiS. A little later the law was signed by Duda and published in the official gazette. With that it is in effect. It also applies to the Polish border areas with Russia and Ukraine. The Polish Senate had spoken out in favor of giving the media and aid organizations access to the border, but the MPs rejected the proposed amendment.

Critics consider change unconstitutional

At the beginning of September, Poland declared a state of emergency for a strip of three kilometers along the border with Belarus. Since then, non-residents, journalists and aid organizations have not been allowed into this zone. That is why information from the Polish security forces about what is going on there cannot be independently verified. According to Polish law, the state of emergency can only be imposed for a maximum of three months, so it has now expired.

The change now stipulates that in the future the Minister of the Interior can prohibit all non-residents from entering a border area defined by him in the event of a dangerous situation. According to the opposition and human rights organizations, the regime gives the government too much power and is contrary to the Polish Constitution.

Polish media estimate that at least twelve people died in the border area. The human rights organization Human Rights Watch had declared that “Belarus brought about this situation without considering the human consequences” and that “Poland shares responsibility for the acute suffering in the border region”. Both countries committed “serious human rights violations” against migrants.

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