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Poland Could Follow Germany’s Lead on Border Controls as Talk Toughens on Migrants

The German government announced on Wednesday extended controls at its borders with Poland and Czechia as of this week, following on the heels of a Polish government announcement the day before that it is considering introducing controls on its side of the border.

“If we do not succeed in better protecting the external borders… then the open borders within the EU are in danger,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters when announcing the new measures.

The German Federal Police would conduct “additional, flexible checks on the smuggling routes at the borders with Poland and Czechia,” German media reported, specifying that these would be additional to the random searches already occurring. An extra 500 officers would be deployed to the two borders for this task.

Despite media speculation ahead of the announcement, no stationary controls at border posts were announced.

The news from Germany is the latest in a series of comments about border controls within the EU’s visa-free Schengen Area made by politicians from both Germany and Poland as they hit the campaign trail and need to talk tough over illegal migration, worries about which are rising among their respective populations. The Polish government is facing a general election on October 15 for which the government and opposition alliance are neck and neck.

On Tuesday night, Piotr Muller, a spokesperson for the Polish government, said during an interview with local media that Poland too was considering “some controls on the Polish-German border on our side”.

“We are afraid that at any moment there will be traffic from Italy,” the spokesperson added, referring to the huge influx of migrants from Tunisia to the Italian island of Lampedusa over the last few weeks.

The German government began raising the possibility of reintroducing stationary checks on the borders with Poland and Czechia earlier in the year following a rise in the numbers of migrants crossing over into German territory this year.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, at the main refugee reception centre in eastern Germany, Eisenhuttenstadt nearby Franfurt-Oder, there are now 1,800 people being registered each month, as opposed to about 1,000 one year ago.

Some 204,000 people requested asylum in Germany in the first eight months of 2023, an increase of 77 per cent compared with the same period in 2022, according to data quoted by Politico Europe. Only a fraction of these come to Germany via Poland.

The Polish Border Guard said there were over 21,000 attempted irregular entries into Poland over the Belarus-Polish border between January and August. Many of those who succeed in crossing are making their way to Germany directly. Additionally, migrants coming via the Balkan route are increasingly making their way to the West through Slovakia via southern Poland.

Also on Tuesday, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said Poland introduced checks on some vehicles crossing the Slovak-Polish border if border guards suspected they might be carrying migrants.

The Polish government is facing a general election on October 15, where it is nervous about achieving a parliamentary majority. The Law and Justice (PiS) party has made its efforts to combat illegal immigration a core message of its campaign, even going so far as to organise a referendum on the matter on the same day as the general election.

This strategy has, to a degree, backfired against the government, when in early September the Polish media revealed a corruption scandal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whereby thousands of migrant workers from Asia and Africa appear to have been granted visas to come to Poland as a result of fraudulent interventions by PiS politicians.

Both Germany and the European Commission have asked the Polish government for clarifications about the circumstances under which they allowed these migrants to enter the Schengen Area.

Speaking at a rally in Nurnberg over the weekend, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “I don’t want Poland to simply wave people through and then have a discussion about our own asylum policy afterwards.”

Germany is facing regional elections on October 8 in the states of Bavaria and Hesse, in which the far-right AfD party poses a strong challenge to the governing coalition, making migration a key electoral issue here too. Faeser herself is running to be premier in Hesse on the side of Scholz’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

For Mikolaj Pawlak, a sociologist specialising in migration at Warsaw University, the reason illegal migration has become such an election issue is because of the politicians themselves. “This talk of border closures is clearly politicians on the campaign trail wanting to bring the attention of the public to the issue of migration – both in Poland and in Germany,” Pawlak argued.

“The numbers are not so dramatic that this could not be dealt with by cooperation among border guards of the various countries. Plus, the Schengen zone already has mechanisms to address these kinds of problems. The Dublin regulation, relating to the return of migrants to the first EU country they entered, is being amended now, but has been working for many years,” he said. “However, what we are dealing with today is a will to make dramatic statements rather than to solve the issues pragmatically.”

Source : Balkan Insight