Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and a delegation of security officials traveled to their country's border on Thursday to mark the completion of a 186-mile steel wall along the Belarus frontier.
In remarks to reporters, Morawiecki used some some spin to deflect liberal attention from Poland's selective approach to immigration that welcomes Ukrainians while rejecting Syrians—by portraying the migrant barrier as part of the West's confrontation with Russia:
“The first sign of the war in Ukraine was (Belarus President) Alexander Lukashenko’s attack on the Polish border with Belarus. It was thanks to (our) political foresight and the anticipation of what may happen that we may focus now on helping Ukraine, which is fighting to protect its sovereignty,” he told reporters.
Belarus has backed Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, to include allowing Russian forces to use Belarussian territory.
Lukashenko's "attack" on Poland came in the form of weaponized migration, as his government encouraged Middle East migrants to come to Belarus and then attempt to enter the European Union via the country's borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. That move was seen as a novel form of retaliation for EU sanctions against Belarus over its treatment of dissidents.
Thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Africa poured into Belarus and proceeded to the Polish border, where they endured bitter cold in their quest to cross the border. At times, the situation has brought major confrontations. In November, hundreds of migrants pushed toward the border near the Polish village of Kuznica and attempted to defeat a barbed wire fence with spades and other tools.
“This is part of the inhuman and really gangster-style approach of the Lukashenko regime that he is lying to people, he is misusing people … and bringing them to Belarus under the false promise of having easy entry into the EU,” an EU spokesperson said at the time.
Coinciding with the completion of the wall, the Polish government lifted an emergency declaration that barred journalists and human rights activists from observing the situation along the border.
Activists have criticized the Polish government for simultaneously welcoming predominantly white, Christian, female refugees from Ukraine while turning away the largely Muslim, male migrants from elsewhere.
“If you give a lift to a refugee at the Ukrainian border you are a hero. If you do it at the Belarus border you are a smuggler and could end up in jail for eight years,” Natalia Gebert, founder of a Polish nongovernmental organization that helps refugees, told AP.
Meanwhile, in another sign of tension between Warsaw and Minsk, Thursday also brought a Polish government accusation that Belarus was fostering an "atmosphere of acquiescence" to vandalism against Polish graves, Reuters reports:
Poland's foreign ministry said unknown perpetrators had recently damaged Polish tombstones and commemorations in several locations, mainly in Western Belarus, which used to be part of Poland before World War Two and where many Polish soldiers are buried.
The wave of Ukrainian immigration is taking a toll on the EU, as evidenced by German unemployment data posted Thursday. Analysts had projected the number of jobless would drop by 5,000, but it leapt by 133,000.
“These increases are due to the fact that the Ukrainian refugees are now being recorded in the job centers and are therefore visible in the labor market statistics,” said Federal Labor Agency head Detlef Scheele.