The Polish parliament is debating a draft law which would allow the country to erect a wall on its border with Belarus. The wall is expected to cost a little over €353 million.
Walls and fences are reappearing at borders around Europe, in an attempt to prevent more migrants from crossing into the EU from neighboring countries. One of the latest to announce making its current temporary borders permanent is Poland.
On Tuesday this week, the government introduced a draft law in parliament which was debated on Wednesday and Thursday. "The number of attempts to cross the border is growing," said the government, in order to justify its legislation, reported the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP).
The border between the two countries is about 400 kilometers long and already has wire fencing along much of the territory to deter migrants. Armed soldiers and border guards have also been stationed along it since the summer.
According to the German news agency dpa, the Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said that the planned wall was expected to be a "solid high barrier with a surveillance system of cameras and movement sensors." Most Polish politicians however decline to use the word "wall" for what they are planning, perhaps because of the history of walls in Europe pre-1989 between the eastern and western blocs.
Part of the draft law proposes stopping any member of the public within about 200 meters of the barrier. At the moment, due to emergency laws, it is also difficult to get within a few hundred meters of the border zone for activists and journalists who want to talk to the migrants stuck in the ‘no-man’s land’ between Belarus and Poland.
Deutsche Welle (DW) sent a reporter to the area in eastern Poland, who met with several groups of migrants who had made it into Polish territory and had been helped by local people. According to his report, the current exclusion zone is "three kilometers wide and runs all the way up the frontier."
Since August, thousands of migrants have already attempted to make it across the border. People coming from Iraq, Syria, sub-Saharan Africa and even Cuba have reportedly arrived in Belarus on various types of official or fake visas intending to cross into the EU, either via the Baltic states or Poland.
EU countries have accused the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as tools to manipulate the EU into dropping the sanctions it placed on his regime in May.
Poland asked for EU help to strengthen barriers
Last week, Poland asked the EU to help pay for the barriers it plans to build, reports AFP. The government has been under fire from activists who say that it has reacted in a "heavy-handed" manner towards the arrival of migrants.
One activist, who gave her name as Kasia, told DW’s reporter Jack Parrock that she felt like a "tsunami" was arriving in Poland. She said, "we can try and catch the drops which are the people we try and help but we can’t stop the tsunami coming, only the government can do that."
DW met with an Iranian couple at the border who wanted to stay anonymous. The woman told DW she had recently lost her unborn baby after tripping and falling on their way into Poland. DW spoke to them via Polish volunteers who then called the Polish border guards.
The DW reporter said that the Iranian couple had been told that they should not say they would like to go to Germany, "which was the favored destination of most," but instead should say that they wanted asylum in Poland. DW filmed them as they haltingly read out that request.
When asked if their request would be granted, the border guard declined to comment. Instead they loaded the couple into a car and drove off.
On October 14, Parrock, reporting from the Polish capital Warsaw, told DW news that between 400 and 600 people a day are being intercepted by the Polish border guards, and perhaps several thousand are somewhere in the forest that lies between Belarus and Poland.
He said since the summer, Polish border guards have prevent "18,300 people from entering Poland." But getting news from the exclusion zone is difficult, confirmed Parrock for DW. All the migrants he met with were via activist contacts, but many of the Polish activists themselves, said Parrock, are fearful about repercussions from their own government and wider Polish society if they are identified as helping migrants, or giving them food or warm clothes.
Although the ruling conservative party PiS no longer holds a majority in the parliament, a positive vote for the wall plans is "likely" reports dpa. The vote was expected on Thursday although, at the time of writing, had not yet been confirmed.
From Poland to Germany
The director of an asylum center in Eisenhüttenstadt in Germany which borders Poland at its western borders, told local radio rbb that they were calculating that about 3,000 migrants would have arrived in the German state of Brandenburg, at the Polish border, by the end of October, after having crossed Belarus' borders without documents and traveled through Poland.
"We have seen a real uptick in arrivals. So far this month about 1,600 people have arrived here," Olaf Jansen, the director said. Jansen confirmed that so far authorities in his city were managing really well, and that about 800 people had already found accommodation places in other German states.
Some though don't intend to stay in Germany either. Jansen told rbb that for some migrants the final destination might be France, the Netherlands or Scandinavia.